AM UPDATE 11/19 8:02AM: ESPN's Jeremy Schaap talked with Manti Te'o late Friday night. Here's the ESPN interview...
So, maybe he really was the victim of a "Catfish" hoax after all....
That is the impression one draws after a Friday afternoon report by ESPN's Shelley Smith that claims Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted to pulling a hoax on Te'o to a friend at church.
The "unidentified" friend says Tuiasosopo confessed it began as a game and the game took on a life of it's own from there. Not only that, she says Tuiasosopo admitted Te'o was not the 1st person he's pulled the "Prank" on.
And to Shelley Smith's credit, she found 2 people who admitted in 2008, that the same prank was pulled on them. Using a picture of the same person used on Te'o.
Yes, it's kind of complicated.
Read the full story from ESPN.com and Shelley Smith RIGHT HERE
So, if this is all true, then what's next?
Honestly, we don't know. As we write this, the Te'o family is trying to mull over a public response or what to do next. Sadly, Manti Te'o's name has become a national joke because of this.
And yet by all indications, he's the VICTIM here. Something we've been arguing for days. (well, okay, me)
Was he incredibly naive for falling for this hook, line and sinker and then enhancing the story? Yes, absolutely. But by all indications, he believed the story. And yet, he's been portrayed by the national media as the bad guy in this.
We've said it before and we'll say it again. Someone needs to help Te'o with his social and life skills. Yes, it's not incredible to think he got suckered and didn't see the forest for the trees. But at what point do you not start questioning some of this? And when do you give up the dream and realize you've been suckered?
Te'o's biggest mistake. Not owning up to this. But how can anyone know what the 21-year old was thinking? Did he panic and feel like he should keep playing out the story? Did he think--"I'm right, this is real--to me and that's all that matters"? Who knows....
((**note**--His other mistake, letting Notre Dame speak for him. While AD Jack Swarbick may have meant well, by speaking out about this, he made it worse.))
Yes, everyone gets lonely. Yes, lonely people are often the most easy marks for a scam such as this. But the person who NEEDS to be prosecuted and persecuted is Tuiasosopo, not Te'o.
But will anyone apologize for this. No. Will anyone admit they shouldn't have mocked Te'o without knowing the whole story? No.
Unless Smith is being totally played here too, we've found the real perpetrator here, and it ain't the guy who's had his name dragged through the mud at the beginning.
Thanks for allowing the embed ESPN, good reporting job here:
PM UPDATE: CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler has divulged that Te'o told Notre Dame that he tried to Skype with Lennay Kekua- "but she refused..."
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday that Kekua, whom Te'o said had died in September, called Te'o on December 6th to say she faked her death to evade drug dealers. Kekua (in whatever form) tried to start the relationship again, according to Ferd Lewis' report.
Te'o asked the woman to transmit a photo to him with a date stamp, which she did, but this did not allay his suspicions and he later told his family and Notre Dame officials about being scammed.
The woman whose photo has been identified as Lennay Kekua has been identified, by the Inside Edition television program and others, as 23-year-old Diane O'Meara.
ESPN is also getting the opportunity to interview Te'o off-camera and audio will be available later for details and advancement of the story.
WNDU-TV interviewed Te'o neighbor Ashley Prendergast- who doesn't really know Te'o all that well, but still thinks the star linebacker was duped.
WNDU Video on Demand -