Jul 29, 2014
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Media Camp Out at IMG Academy for Manti Te'o

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is working out at the IMG Academy for the NFL Combine, but is in the midst of a hoax controversy concerning an online relationship.

Media Camp Out at IMG Academy for Manti Te'o Media Camp Out at IMG Academy for Manti Te'o

Even though there was no chance Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o would speak to the media, several news outlets showed up in front of IMG Academy to get a glimpse of the athlete at the center of a hoax controversy.

The fascination around Te'o broke Wednesday night, when a Deadspin article revealed that Te'o's supposed girlfriend Lennay Kekua, did not die from leukemia in September or from anything else because she might not have been alive in the first place, as that doesn't appear to be the woman's identity in this online relationship:

"But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.

Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar's office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there's no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te'o."

Tampa media outlets WTSP, a CBS affiliate, had two SUVs and a satellite truck while NBC affiliate WTSP, FOX affiliate WTVT, SNN cable news and another satellite news truck were among the media camped out across IMG in the Manatee Technical Institute parking lot with cameras, waiting for Te'o to leave IMG. Not even the New York Post, CNN and Associated Press reporters there could get an inside scoop, The Herald-Tribune reports. Te'o is in Bradenton to work out at the IMG Academy in preparation for the NFL Draft Combine,  ESPN reports.

Te'o released a statement about the hoax Wednesday night, ESPN reports:

"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. 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."

The story continues to unfold Thursday and new reports have unnamed Notre Dame teammates telling sports blog Pepper On Sports that they believe Te'o was involved in the hoax:

"The Notre Dame football player, who asked for anonymity, told Pepper On Sports, “No we all knew he had only seen her once.  But when the media was saying how he went through both deaths we knew,”  said the source, referring to the back-to-back deaths of Te’o’s grandmother and girlfriend Lennay Kekua, who allegedly died of Leukemia." 

Some are comparing this online relationship hoax to being "catfished"—a term popularized by the documentary movie and now MTV series of the same name. It's when someone in an online relationship, which can involve phone conversations, pretends to be someone else by posting a fake name and/or a fake profile photo. However, the two never meet face-to-face and only find out when they meet that they've been "catfished." 

Yet, according to the Pepper on Sports blog, Te'o and his teammates knew of the person's real identity.

None of this can be cleared up until Te'o talks, and if he does, it won't be at IMG.

A spokeswoman for IMG tells The Bradenton Herald, that Te'o will not speak to the media at IMG and would not hold a press conference. An exclusive interview by ESPN's Jeremy Schapp with Te'o was also reportedly canceled for today, Chicago Tribune sports reporter Brian Hamilton tweets.

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