The University of Notre Dame has reportedly ordered the school's staff to keep quiet on the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax that has rocked the world of college sports.
On Wednesday, Deadspin broke the news that the heartbreaking story of the death of Te'o's cancer-stricken girlfriend was a fabrication. From a fake Twitter account, to stolen photos, to inconsistent reporting, the Te'o story quickly unraveled the deeper Deadspin reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey dug. Eventually, it was revealed that Te'o's alleged girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, is not even a real person.
TMZ reports that Notre Dame is telling staff members to keep their mouths shut on the Te'o girlfriend scandal. One source told TMZ that officials have warned the staff that if they speak about the controversy without permission, they will "never work for Notre Dame again."
The University has stood by its celebrated Mormon football linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist since the news exploded.
After Te'o released a statement on the Kekua hoax, claiming he had been the victim of a "sick joke," Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick held a Wednesday night news conference in support of Te'o.
Swarbrick said Notre Dame was made aware of the girlfriend hoax on Dec. 26, after Te'o reportedly received a phone call from his girlfriend, who had supposedly died three months earlier, according to CBS News.
"Every single thing about this was real to Manti," said Swarbrick, per CBS. "There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that's the sad nature of this cruel game."
Notre Dame Assistant Vice President Dennis Brown also issued a statement, via Facebook, backing Te'os story.
"[...] Someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," wrote Brown. "[T]his appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."
The Notre Dame star, who helped his team beat Michigan, 13-6, taking them to a 4-0 game record on the day of his girlfriend's supposed death, was once considered a shoo-in for the NFL first-round draft.
Now, the girlfriend hoax may factor into the NFL's decision.
"There are still so many questions surrounding this strange 'fake' girlfriend hoax," writes NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah. "NFL teams will be interested in finding out the truth, but they will be even more interested in finding out if Te'o's strong overall reputation is based in fact."