So I don't really follow football so I'd never heard of Manti Te'o until yesterday, but he and this fake girlfriend story is the only thing people are talking about in the office today. So... I went to read about it and discovered it's a pretty complicated story. Here a break-down to help you get in the "know" like I did:
Below is people.com's story...followed by the latest update from TMZ:
One of the most heartbreaking stories of this year's college-football season – the September death from leukemia of Notre Dame star Manti Te'o's girlfriend – has turned out to be a hoax.
The woman, whom Te'o says he met only online, never in real life, did not exist, the website Deadspin reports.
She was invented by unknown perpetrators, and fooled Te'o along with everyone else, the 21-year-old linebacker claims.
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said in a statement Wednesday. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her."
He added: "To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
The woman, whom Te'o knew as Lennay Kekua, was widely reported last year to have whispered "I love you" to Te'o over the phone just before she died. Compounding the heartbreak for Te'o, his grandmother died the same week.
Notre Dame says Te'o approached the school later in the year after realizing he'd been fooled.
"On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax," the university said in a statement Wednesday. "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."
The university said it launched an investigation, which is ongoing.
Deadspin and others have questioned how Te'o could have been deceived for so long, and speculated that he might have been involved in the hoax, perhaps to boost his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy. (That prize went to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel in December.)
But Notre Dame is backing the player.
"While we still don't know all of the dimensions of this … there are certain things that I feel confident we do know," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a press conference. "The first is that this was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax, perpetrated for reasons we don't understand."
Wiping away tears, Swarbrick said of Te'o: "The thing I am most sad of is, the single most trusting human being I have ever met will never be able to trust in the same way ever again."
The Manti Te'o not-really-dead-girlfriend hoax was perpetuated by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- who served as a representative for the family of the fake "Lennay Kekua" ... and TMZ has the photo proof.
Here's what we know ...
While Manti was "dating" Lennay ... a Notre Dame die-hard fan who we'll call "Jan" (to protect her identity) reached out to Lennay on Twitter and began an online friendship.
After Lennay's supposed death, Jan became involved with a group called "Wear a Lei 4 Manti" -- in which fans wore Hawaiian leis to ND football games to show their support for the football star.
When the "Wear a Lei 4 Manti" movement began to receive media attention, Jan says she noticed she gained a Twitter follower named U'ilani Rae Kekua.
Jan tells TMZ ... she reached out to U'ilani and asked if she was related to Lennay -- to which U'ilani replied, "Yes, that's my baby sister." The two became friends.
In fact, Jan says they both mentioned how they were going to attend the Notre Dame vs. USC game in L.A. on November 24, 2012 ... so Jan sent U'ilani her cell phone number in case she wanted to meet up.
Here's where the story takes a turn ... Jan tells TMZ she got a phone call from U'ilani on the day of the game directing her to the famous Tommy Trojan statue in front of the stadium, so they could meet up.
But when Jan arrived to the statue, U'ilani was NOT there ... but guess who was -- Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Jan and Ronaiah even took a photo together (see above).
According to the Deadspin article, Ronaiah was the person who obtained the photo of the woman everyone believed to be Lennay ... and is suspected of having a major role in the hoax.
Jan tells us Ronaiah was with a little girl during the USC meeting who they called Pookah -- and together, they explained how Lennay's sister couldn't come down to visit, so U'ilani sent them instead. Jan says Ronaiah "made it seem as if he was a member of Lennay's family."
After Jan and Ronaiah took the picture together -- Jan says Ronaiah began to act paranoid ... and told her, "Make sure you don't post this photo online."
Soon after the game, Jan says she was contacted by U'ilani ... who also urged her NOT to post the picture of Ronaiah. She didn't explain why.
U'ilani later sent a photo to Jan showing a woman at a cemetery -- and told her, "This is me and my family at Lennay's gravesite. We're spending the day here."
Clearly, the woman in the photo is not U'ilani ('cause she doesn't really exist) ... and some digging suggests the woman in the photo is actually a woman named Donna Tei, who doesn't seem to have a relationship with anyone involved in the hoax.
There's more ... Jan tells TMZ Lennay's "sister" continued to reach out to her after the USC game ... and delivered some more bad news -- that little Pookah had been diagnosed with lupus and was dying in a children's hospital in Orange County, CA.
Jan said she wanted to send flowers -- so Lennay's "sister" gave her an address. TMZ has learned the address belongs to a member of the Tuiasosopo family.
Jan also gave us the phone number Lennay's sister would use to contact her -- and we found out the number is registered to a man named Titus Tuiasosopo -- Ronaiah's father.
We tried to reach out to Ronaiah -- but we couldn't get a hold of him. So far, he has yet to comment to the media about the story.
Read more: http://www.tmz.com#ixzz2IG8AxCVk