You’ve heard the news by now, that Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Te’o was duped into believing that his online girlfriend died during the 2012 college football season and on the very same day that his grandmother in Hawaii also died. But it wasn’t true. The girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, didn’t actually exist. According to USAToday, the online persona was created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te’o's and a pastor at a church in Palmdale, Calif. In a statement on Wednesday, Te’o said:
This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.
In a press conference last night Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick called the hoax a catfishing event and suggested that people check out the 2010 documentary by Nev Schulman,, Catfish, and the current MTV show based on the movie and designed to investigate those hoaxes. Schulman was the real-life victim of a catfish scam and made the movie in order to expose the fraudulent action. Here’s what happened to Shulman: He met someone online named Megan, a pretty 20-year-old from Michigan, and over time, fell for her. At some point, Shulman demanded to meet Megan and she turned out to be someone else — a middle-aged mom of two named Angela Wesselman. After the movie, Schulman went on to develop a series on MTV called “Catfish: The TV Show,” which tries to expose real-life anglers.
As for Te’o, there is some question about whether or not he was in on the hoax for publicity. But so far the jury is out on that and isn’t it a common thing to the blame the victim? Perhaps it will be Schulman that uncovers the truth. On Wednesday night he tweeted: “I am working on finding out more about this @MTeo_5 #Catfish story. I have been in contact with the woman involved and will get the truth.” If this isn’t good publicity for Te’o, it’s certainly great publicity for Schulman. Huh.
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