The man who devoted three years to duping Manti Te’o says his only motivation for the hoax was to try to help the former Notre Dame linebacker be a better person.
Manti Te'o met hoax perpetrator Ronaiah Tuiasosopo the night before playing USC in Los Angeles, the hoaxer said Thursday.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo spoke for the first time about his contact with Te'o on the daytime television show Dr. Phil on Thursday. He tried to shed light on how and why he created a fake persona named Lennay Kekua, and why he then used his digital puppet to start an intimate relationship with Te’o. He reiterated that Te’o had no involvement in the scheme and said he had no intentions of trying to exploit the soon-to-be millionaire.
“Not at all. No. Never,” Tuiasosopo said when asked about a potential blackmail plan. “If you look over all the interviews that Manti released whenever he would reflect on Lennay he said nothing but things about how her heart and her character had a major impact on him. Thought it was deceptive, there was a lot of positives that came out of it.”
The positive, he says, was that Kekua became a spiritual and mental support for Te'o. He called the relationship he conjured “shameful,” but said his emotions were real. Te’o, in his own talk show interview a week ago, said the emotions he felt when he believed Kekua was real and had died of leukemia were also genuine.
Te’o spoke to Tuiasosopo on the phone the day news of the hoax broke on Jan. 16. The former Irish captain said Tuiasosopo offered the same explanation to him, but added that the hoaxer had failed if he didn’t want to cause Te’o harm.
They first crossed paths via Facebook early in Te’o’s college career. Tuiasosopo said he connected with Te’o’s cousin using the Kekua Facebook account. Shortly after the linebacker requested to be his friend on the website. Tuiasosopo said he didn’t seek out Te’o as a mark from the beginning.
Tuiasosopo said he tried several times to end the faux relationship before eventually killing his “character” with cancer. He met Te’o in person at the Notre Dame team hotel the day before the Irish played USC in their regular season finale.
“It was really awkward at first and I wanted to tell him right then and there,” he said. “Shortly after, his uncle and a lot of his uncle’s friends all came and it wasn’t the right time.”
Two weeks later he called Te’o and created an even more complex lie to explain that Kekua was still alive. Tuiasosopo said Thursday he reached out again to set the record straight and explain the bizarre affair.
It was a love affair in Tuiasosopo’s mind. He said he developed romantic feelings for Te’o over time and became “confused” about his own sexuality.
“As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person. I did all that I could to help this person become a better person,” he said.
Tuiasosopo objected to the characterization of their relationship as “a cruel joke,” which are the words Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick used in a Jan. 16 press conference.
“Cruel, true. Joke, never,” he said. “It was never intended as a joke. It was never intended to be funny.”
The second part of Tuiasosopo’s interview is scheduled to run Friday afternoon.