Admitting that he deceived his parents and the press about the nature of his relationship with Lennay Kekua, but denying any involvement in the hoax, Manti Te'o spoke with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap Friday night for more than two hours in an off-camera interview. (Most of what little we know about the interview with Te'o comes from a surreal interview Schaap did with SportsCenter early Saturday morning. We'll update as more emerges.)
Amazingly, Te'o claimed he wasn't "fully convinced" that Lennay Kekua did not exist until Wednesday, after we published our report on the hoax. This goes against a good deal of what Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a press conference Wednesday night. (Te'o's agents at CAA, not Notre Dame, negotiated the interview with Schaap.) Swarbrick said he shared the findings from the university's investigation of the hoax with Te'o's parents more than two weeks ago, on Jan. 5. Had they really not told their son the news? And had Notre Dame told Te'o nothing? It was, after all, per Notre Dame's official account, a Dec. 26 tip from Te'o himself that prompted the school to investigate Kekua. According to Swarbrick, Te'o had received a call on Dec. 6 from a living woman who had previously identified herself as Kekua, who, you will recall, he believed to be dead.
Te'o also told Schaap—per the story available on ESPN.com—that a woman claiming to be Kekua turned up at the Notre Dame hotel before the BCS national championship game in Miami. Writes ESPN, "Te'o said he knew they were at the hotel because the group took photos in the hotel lobby."
We know this woman could not have been the woman Te'o saw in pictures that were purportedly of Lennay: That woman did not attend the game and, moreover, knew nothing about her photos being connected to Kekua's online identity. So who was this woman? Did Te'o believe her claim that she was Kekua, if she did make this claim to him? (The story isn't clear.) How did he remain unconvinced that his dead girlfriend never existed until Wednesday, if he had two separate moments of contact with her before Jan. 7? Why, if he was agnostic about her existence, did he still refer to her death multiple times in the press? Te'o did tell Schaap that he lied to his father, Brian, about the pair's visits in Hawaii, and that he "tailored his stories" to the press.
When asked if he was a part of the hoax, Te'o, who was interviewed with an attorney present at IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla., responded, "I wasn't faking it, I wasn't part of this." As for why Te'o never visited his dying girlfriend in the hospital, he told Schaap, "It never really crossed my mind."
Te'o also told Schaap that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man we identified as being behind Lennay Kekua, apologized to him Wednesday via Twitter direct message. Te'o also said two others, a man and a woman, were Ronaiah's accomplices, but he didn't name them. Schaap said he saw the messages, but we're still not sure how such an apology would have worked. Tuiasosopo deleted his Twitter account weeks ago, and direct messages on Twitter require the recipient to follow the sender. We checked the list of Twitter users Te'o follows on Tuesday and didn't see any sign of Ronaiah. It's possible Ronaiah used a new account to send an @-reply Te'o's way to apologize, but tweets including Te'o's Twitter name were coming at such a rapid pace Wednesday it's inconceivable that Te'o could have picked out a single apology from all the other tweets. [Update: See the tweets at bottom, via ESPN.com.]
Te'o claimed he met Tuiasosopo in person for the first time after the Notre Dame-USC game on Nov. 24. (A tweet from Ronaiah's deleted account suggests that Te'o and Tuiasosopo met on the 23rd, but we haven't been able to recover the image associated with Tuiasosopo's tweet. The individual who provided this photo of Te'o with Ronaiah's sister told us it was taken the 23rd.)
As for what Te'o wants for Tuiasosopo, he told Schaap "I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough." Manti Te'o's apparent defense is that he had no reason to think his twice-undead dead long-distance girlfriend, whom he never met or saw outside of photographs, whose funeral he never thought to attend, might have been a phony. Regardless of whether he's telling the truth, he'll soon see just how big embarrassment can get.
Update (2:34 a.m.): ESPN has removed all references to the woman claiming to be Lennay showing up at the team hotel from its online story. There is no explanation, note, or correction in their story.
Update (12:05 p.m.): Here are the tweets, via ESPN:
Update (12:30 p.m.): ESPN has an edited transcript of the interview here.