While doubts continue to swirl around Manti Te'o and his account of the hoax involving the tragic story of a deceased girlfriend, a report by ESPN's Outside the Lines on Friday appeared to bolster his case that he was a victim. According to ESPN, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the 22-year-old identified by Deadspin as the likely architect of the hoax, tearfully confessed his involvement to a friend from church in early December.
"He [Ronaiah] told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. … The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie," said the woman who spoke with ESPN on the condition of anonymity. "He was crying, he was literally crying, he's like 'I know, I know what I have to do.'"
Hours after Deadspin revealed on Wednesday that Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed and his account of her death from leukemia during Notre Dame's undefeated regular season was a fabrication, the star linebacker claimed he was the "victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies." Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick echoed this account during a press conference that evening.
"I don't want to confuse this at all," Swarbrick said during the press conference. "Manti Te'o was the victim of this scam."
That Te'o had never met Kekua in person and continued to perpetuate the myth of their relationship after reportedly learning that it was con, left many wondering if he had been involved.
"Nothing about this story has been comprehensible, or logical, and that extends to what happens next," wrote CBS sports columnist Gregg Doyell . "I cannot comprehend Manti Te'o saying anything that could make me believe he was a victim."
A friend of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin that he was "80 percent sure" that Te'o was "in on it" in order to drum up positive publicity. True or not, Te'o's perseverance despite the deaths of his grandmother (who did actually exist and pass away) and girlfriend on the same day became a central part of his narrative.
Two individuals who appeared to know Tuiasosopo also commented on the Deadspin report on Twitter shortly after it was published, with one tweeting "I knew it." They had been tweeting about a Kekua hoax weeks before Deadspin even broke the story. Those communications seem to indicate that Te'o was duped by Tuiasosopo but given the various machinations of this bizarre situation it remains unclear.
"This can play out only two ways," wrote Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN, who had sat across from Te'o as he described the relationship in October. "Either Te'o is telling the truth or he's a Lance Armstrong-caliber liar. Either he is a victim of a pitiless hoax or part architect of it."
Living in Southern California, Tuiasosopo played high school football at Antelope Valley and Paraclete high schools. As reported by Deadspin, he leads the band at the Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley, where his father, Titus, is the pastor.