Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o sat down with ABC's Katie Couric to discuss being, as he claims, the victim of an online hoax.
Teo's story continues to reveal new twists and turns, but the basic facts appear to be that the Hawaiian-born athlete had been in contact with someone he believed to be a young California woman named Lennay Kekua, whom he interacted with both on the web and via telephone, but had never met in person. This didn't stop Te'o from eventually referring to Kekua as his girlfriend -- even speaking out about her illness and eventual death from leukemia -- until the day he says he discovered that Kekua was not real.
In the wake of Deadspin.com's exposé of the hoax, Te'o's lawyer has echoed allegations that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an acquaintance of Te'o's, had been behind the hoax, also revealing that Tuiasosopo had disguised his voice to impersonate that of a female during the more than 500 hours the two spent talking on the phone.
In his interview with Couric, Te'o says he thought Tuiasosopo had been Kekua's cousin. He also shared that he'd misled (or, as Couric phrased it, "essentially lied" to) reporters, the public, and his own family about the nature of his relationship with Kekua because he hadn't wanted to be seen as a "weirdo" for not having met her in person. He maintains that he never lied about Kekua after finding out she hadn't been real, insisting that "I wasn't as forthcoming, but I didn't lie."
Couric asked Te'o to address speculation that he had continued with the fake relationship to cover up his sexual orientation. "Are you gay?" she asked him. "No," he said, laughing. "Far from it. Far from it."
Later, Couric played portions of voice mails left by the person purporting to be Kekua and asked Te'o if he thought the voice on the phone might belong to a man. He replied that it certainly "sounded like a woman."
"If he somehow made that voice," Te'o added, "that's incredible."
Couric also asked Te'o to explain why he'd "stuck to the script" after the person impersonating Kekua had said that she was, in fact, still alive, and had not died from leukemia as he had originally been told.
"Part of me was saying if you say she's alive, what will everybody think? What are you going to tell everybody who followed you, who you inspired?" he replied. "As a 21-year-old I wasn't ready for that. I didn't even tell my parents. I'm the only one who knew, me ... I didn't know who to trust. I was scared." He also asked Couric what she would have done if she'd been in his situation, explaining that he was informed that Kekua was "still alive" on December 6th, two days before he was to do a media appearance.
"I was just scared and I didn't know what to do," he said.
Te'o also insists that he wasn't certain that Kekua didn't exist until Jan. 16, when Tuiasosopo called to confess that he was behind the hoax. "He didn't say why, he just explained he wanted to help people," Te'o said. "It was his way of helping people."
When asked what he would say to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo if he had the chance, Te'o responded, "You hurt me."