North Texas Daily

Athlete’s phantom girlfriend haunts media

Athlete’s phantom girlfriend haunts media

January 16
22:25 2013

With the college football season closing after Alabama’s 42-14 eradication of Notre Dame, one would be led to believe that the sport would take a hiatus until its heralded signing day, when high school athletes choose which college they will play for.

That series of events, unfortunately for the football weary, did not come to fruition as today the sports media were exposed as fools.

Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman trophy runner-up Manti Te’o’s “dead girlfriend,” Lennay Keuka who supposedly died of Leukemia on Sept. 11 2012, was not deceased. To avoid being misleading, it should also be known that she isn’t alive either because yesterday this character was exposed as fiction.

Writers Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey broke the story on sports blog Deadspin, which included an indictment of the media for not paying attention as they uncovered the truth behind Te’o’s faux girlfriend.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te’o, created Lennay Keuka. Tuiasosopo went on to establish multiple Twitter accounts using this fabricated personality, using photos he received from a former high school classmate as his character’s image.

The details of Deadspin’s story show numerous inconsistencies on the parts of Te’o and the media. The Southbend Tribune notes that Te’o met this person at Stanford after a Notre Dame loss and also note Te’o father acknowledging that Keuka visited Te’o in Hawaii.

This publication is not the only one at fault as multiple media outlets including ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, the New York Post, the Los Angeles Times and even the Associated Press printed false stories involving meetings which never happened and a romance that didn’t exist.

I suppose the media was swept up in the tragic stories like us all, but the problem is that they gave this story legs by printing fiction after fiction without ever looking up this person or her family.

At what point does this not become pinned on the sports writers for contributing to this series of sloppy reporting?

One might say that Keuka was “unreachable” or her family chose “not to comment” on the multiple stories printed about their daughter. But for their not to be a source claiming to meet Keuka besides Te’o should have raised suspicions in multiple newsrooms around the country.

For the Southbend Tribune to get caught up in a local “hero” makes sense because, to be blunt, they’re not exactly a major publication.

For ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the pillars of sports media, to get caught up in this firestorm is truly embarrassing for journalism.

After the report, Te’o and Notre Dame both released statements that seem less like the truth and more like damage control. While there is no way of confirming whether or not he knew anything about his buddy’s hoax, save for a admission, some of the blame must fall on the linebacker’s shoulders.

His father is quoted of saying that his son and his “girlfriend” saw each other in Hawaii. Why would the father lie about the meeting? Did Te’o lie to his father? For what reason? These are questions I would ask Te’o if given the opportunity.

The timing of the statements are also questionable, as the school mentions that them and Te’o knew about the mock girlfriend since December 26 yet allowed the media and public to continue grieving for a made-up inspirational figure.

Not only that, some people donated money to Leukemia foundations upon hearing of Keuka’s death. While that’s not a negative thing, one has to wonder if people would have made the donation if they knew Keuka was as real as Pinocchio or Scooby-Doo.

Though Te’o will most likely receive the most heat, the media should stand up and take responsibility with a loud and clear “we messed up.” Instead, media members will most likely turn on Te’o because the story of his girlfriend made them look foolish.

Fans might eat it up or get annoyed instead, but the sport of college football is probably happy either way. After all, this keeps them in the news until their ever-important signing day hits headlines.

T. S. Johnson is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at

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