NEW YORK – The person Manti Te’o says was pretending to be his online girlfriend told the Notre Dame linebacker I love you in voice mails that were played during his interview with Katie Couric.
Taped this week and broadcast Thursday, the hour-long talk show featured three voice mails that Te’o claims were left for him last year. Te’o said they were from the person he believed to be Lennay Kekua, a woman he had fallen for online but never met face to face.
The interview was the All-American’s first on camera since his tale of inspired play after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September unraveled as a bizarre hoax in an exposé by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16.
Te’o’s parents appeared with him for part of the interview and backed up his claim that he wasn’t involved in the fabrication, saying they, too, had spoken on the phone with a person they believed to be Kekua.
Couric addressed speculation that the tale was concocted by Te’o as a way to cover up his sexual orientation. Asked if he were gay, Te’o said no with a laugh. Far from it. Faaaar from that.
He also said he was scared and didn’t know what to do after receiving a call Dec. 6 – two days before the Heisman Trophy presentation – from a person who claimed to be his dead girlfriend.
The last of the voice mails was left Sept. 11, Te’o says, the day he believed Kekua was released from the hospital and the day before she died.
Hey babe, I’m just calling to say goodnight, the person on the voice mail said. I love you. I know that you’re probably doing homework or you’re with the boys. ... But I just wanted to say I love you and goodnight and I’ll be OK tonight. I’ll do my best. Um, yeah, so get your rest and I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I love you so much, hon. Sweet dreams.
Couric suggested the person who left those messages might have been Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old man from California, who Te’o said has apologized to him for pulling the hoax.
Do you think that could have been a man on the other end of the phone? she asked.
Well, it didn’t sound like a man, he said. It sounded like a woman. If he somehow made that voice, that’s incredible. That’s an incredible talent to do that. Especially every single day.