01/18/2013 10:49 am ET

Manti Te'o Hoax Media Reaction: College Football Writers Respond To Girlfriend Hoax

Perhaps no contingent was more shocked that the dramatic tale of Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying during Notre Dame's undefeated regular season was a fake than the media members who disseminated it.

Count Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN among those stunned by the Deadspin report. He had interviewed Te'o in October and heard the star linebacker speak at length about the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.

"I'm reattaching my jaw," Wojciechowski said during an appearance on Sportscenter on Wednesday night. "It's like hearing Notre Dame is going to drop football. It's stunning. It's bizarre. It's one of the weirdest, saddest stories I've ever come across."

Asked if he believed he could have done anything differently on the occasion of that interview, the longtime college football reporter was candid about his thought process as well as some irregularities that he noticed at the time, including a lack of documentation about the death of Kekua.

"I sat across from him and I was moved by his story. It was heartbreaking. It was heartwarming. And, as it turns out, it was totally untrue. But short of asking to see a death certificate, I'm not sure what most people would do differently in that case," Wojciechowski explained. "But in researching it before I wrote the script I remember trying to find an obituary for his girlfriend and could not and couldn't find any record of this car accident."


This October 2012 interview conducted by Wojciechowski was hardly the only time when Te'o spoke about Kekua and the story was popularized. Sports Illustrated senior writer Pete Thamel wrote a moving profile of Te'o in December in which the Heisman finalist's relationship with the nonexistent Kekua figured prominently. After learning of the hoax, Thamel's primary question was whether Te'o was complicit.

In a statement released to ESPN, Te'o claimed that he "was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies." A short while after Te'o released his statement, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick convened a press conference in South Bend. He was resolute in his stance that Te'o was a victim and not a part of the fraud.

"Nothing about what I've learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota," Swarbrick said during the press conference.

After hearing Swarbick's emotional remarks regarding the hoax and the university's handling of it, Pat Forde of Yahoo! wrote that he found this explanation plausible.

Swarbrick came to his Wednesday news conference armed with enough information to be certain that Te'o was the victim, not the perpetrator, of a vile hoax.

After listening to him, I believe Notre Dame.

Like Thamel and many more, Forde is still waiting to hear from Te'o.

The next step will be to see whether we can believe Manti Te'o when he addresses the story that stunned America. He has some explaining to do, but I believe that task was made easier by what Swarbrick said Wednesday.