In another new twist to the ever-evolving Manti Te’o story – specifically, for anyone who’s been living under a rock for the past two weeks, the story of how a rising Notre Dame football star reportedly got lured into an online relationship with a dying woman named Lennay Kekua, who it was later revealed, never actually existed – the New York Post has reported that the woman who Te’o had in fact been speaking to on the phone for months, was Tino Tuiasosopo, the cousin of the alleged hoax mastermind Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Te’o spent the past four years playing linebacker for Notre Dame. In 2012, he led the Fighting Irish to a perfect regular season record and a matchup with Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. His seven interceptions and 113 tackles made him a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. There has been speculation that Te’o lied about his fake girlfriend, in order to gain sympathy and notoriety in his campaign to win the award.
In a two-part exclusive on-camera interview with Katie Couric, which brought Couric her highest ratings ever since the September debut of her show “Katie,” Te’o revealed some of the voicemails he had received from Kekua. Two of the published messages were sent to Te’o on the day of Kekua’s first chemo session and on the day she was released from the hospital. In another, a sobbing Kekua accuses Te’o of being with another girl, telling him in between fits of crying, “I don’t know who answered your phone . . . I don’t care. [Inaudible] I’m trying. You made it clear what you want. Take care.”
The voicemails’ broadcast immediately sparked debates over Twitter about whether or not they had been recorded by a woman or perhaps by Ronaiah.
Te’o told Couric that even after discovering that Ronaiah was behind the hoax, he still believed that the “Lennay” he had spoken to over the phone was a woman.
“Well, it didn’t sound like a man. It sounded like a woman,” Te’o told a skeptical Couric. “If he somehow made that voice, that’s incredible, that’s an incredible talent to do that. Especially every single day.”
But not everyone believed Te’o’s story. “I knew that wasn't a female on Manti Te'o's voicemail!!” Radio station @1025TheGame tweeted.
“Before we are quick to pass judgment and say a dude couldn't have left those Manti Te'o voicemails, let's remember Rascal Flatts shall we?” Twitter user @seminarysgrdady joked.
Adding to the mystery, Ronaiah’s lawyer, Milton Grimes, claimed that his client had recorded the voicemails himself, altering his voice to sound more feminine. But now cousins of Tuiasosopo’s are pinning the phone calls on Tuiasosopo’s female cousin, Tino.
“Tino is the girl that Manti has been talking to all these months,” a source who spoke to the Post said.
Another of the sources close to Tuisasosopo who had listened to the voicemails said, “That’s the way [Tino] cries when she’s feeling sorry for herself. It’s her, that’s the voice.”
Sources added that Tino, who is described as in her mid-20’s and currently living in Pago Pago, American Samoa, likely became involved in the ruse after going through an emotional breakup of her own. A source said that there were “extraordinary similarities” between the two encounters.
According to the Post’s report, Tino had been in a long-distance relationship with another man, but it had broken up with her at the end of 2011. “She said it was OK, because she was doing better. She said she was talking to another person [and] he plays football for Notre Dame — number 5, Manti,” the Post source said.
Tino’s father, Bob, declined to comment on the ordeal and said only, “I don’t want to divulge anything.”
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