The interview, which airs Thursday on Couric’s syndicated television show, put Te’o and his parents in front of television cameras for the first time. Portions of the interview were broadcast Wednesday on “Good Morning America.”
In the portions released, Te’o told a story similar to the one he told in an off-camera interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap last week — namely, that he believes his girlfriend Lennay Kekua had died of cancer in September, but he was confused by a Dec. 6 phone call in which she claimed to be alive.
Pressed by Couric to admit that he was in on the deception, Te’o said that he believed Kekua had died of cancer and that he didn’t lie about it until December.
“Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12,” Te’o said.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up said he only learned of the hoax when he received a phone call in December from a woman saying she was Kekua.
“Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she’s alive, and then I’m going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?” Te’o said.
At the Heisman Trophy presentation Dec. 8 in New York, ESPN’s Chris Fowler asked Te’o what moment of his very public story of tragedy he would remember.
“I think I’ll never forget the time when I found out that, you know, my girlfriend passed away and the first person to run to my aid was my defensive coordinator, Coach [Bob] Diaco, and you know, he said something very profound to me,” Te’o said. “He said, ‘This is where your faith is tested.’ Right after that, I ran into the players’ lounge and I got on the phone with my parents — and I opened my eyes and my head coach was sitting right there. And so, you know, there are a hundred-plus people on our team, and the defensive coordinator and our head coach took time to just go get one [of those players]. You know, I think that was the most meaningful to me.”
Te’o also said on ESPN Radio the same day that he hoped his grandmother, who died Sept. 12, and his girlfriend, who was reported to have died on the same day, were proud of him.
Te’o’s father defended his son when Couric pointed out that many people don’t believe the Irish star, suspecting that he used the situation for personal gain.
“People can speculate about what they think he is. I’ve known him 21 years of his life. And he’s not a liar. He’s a kid,” Brian Te’o said with tears in his eyes.
Also on Wednesday, the woman whose photo was used as the “face” of the Twitter account of Manti Te’o’s supposed girlfriend says the man allegedly behind the hoax confessed and apologized to her.
Diane O’Meara told NBC’s “Today” show that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating Kekua.
O’Meara also said that she had been asked to send pictures of her showing support for Tuiasosopo’s cousin, who he said had been injured in a car crash, by holding up a sign saying “MSMK.” Asked why she would send the photo, she said, “We’re raised to be polite,” and added that she almost felt guilty not sending it.
The original Deadspin.com story on the hoax reported a similar scenario and posted similar photos, although O’Meara was not identified by name at that time. The site reported that the “MSMK” photo was briefly used as a Twitter avatar and background for a Kekua account.
But that is not the only way it appears to have been used. In Te’o’s interview with Schaap on Friday night, Te’o said he explicitly requested such a photo of Kekua, with her initials [Lennay is a nickname] held up to the camera, to prove to him she was who she said she was.
“So I told her, ‘OK, take another picture. And this time I want you to hold a paper up with your initials, MSMK, which is her initials, the date and you throwing up the sign,'” Te’o said during the two-and-a-half-hour interview.
It is unclear whether it is actually O’Meara holding the dated sign in the photo or whether the image was Photoshopped.
O’Meara also said she doesn’t know whether Te’o was involved, but: “If Manti is truly innocent, I empathize with him.”
Also, a source close to Te’o gave Schaap documents that the source says are Te’o’s AT&T phone records from May 11 to Sept. 12. Their veracity could not be independently confirmed, but the source insisted they are genuine.
The records show that in that four-month span — when Te’o has said he believed Lennay Kekua to be in a Los Angeles hospital, recovering from an accident and being treated for cancer — Te’o made and received more than 1,000 calls totaling more than 500 hours in length from the same number in the 661 area code. The 661 area code covers Lancaster, which part of Los Angeles County. The source told Schaap that Te’o believed the 661 phone number in question was Lennay Kekua’s.
Of these calls, 110 were more than 60 minutes in length, including several that were several hundred minutes long. In an ESPN interview last Friday, and in interviews with both ESPN and Sports Illustrated last fall, Te’o said he was on the phone “every single night” with a person he believed to be Kekua, often for long stretches late at night.
On Friday, he said to Schaap, “I’d be on the phone. And she had complications from the accident and, she said the only thing that could help her sleep was if I was on the phone. So I would be on the phone, and I’d have the phone on the whole night.”
From the records, however, it does not appear that Te’o was on the phone every single night for the entire night. But the volume of calls and their duration is prodigious.
Re-printed from Espn.com