The man who says he tricked Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo into falling for a fake woman he created online claims the hoax had everything to do with escaping from real life because he had been molested as a child.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo spoke publicly for the first time in an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw for the Dr. Phil Show, the second part of which aired Friday.
Tuiasosopo, 22, told McGraw he was repeatedly molested, beginning at age 12, by someone who was close to his father, a church pastor and youth minister.
I felt that I couldnt do things, accomplish things, pursue things, live out as Ronaiah, Tuiasosopo said. And I felt the need to create this. It has everything to do with what I went through as a child.
Tuiasosopo did not identify his alleged attacker by name and did not say whether he had told police about his claim.
His father, Titus Tuiasosopo, said it was difficult to hear the details of the abuse his son suffered.
When he told me the location, the time, I could go back and vividly remember those trips, the times that these guys came over, he said. That part, right there, was kind of gut-wrenching for me.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo said he built the online persona of Lennay Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Teo said he fell in love with despite never meeting in person. Tuiasosopo then killed off the character last September.
He said creating Kekua – who met Teo online during the players freshman year at Notre Dame – allowed him to live in an alternate reality.
When I looked at Lennay through Mantis eyes, I got a glimpse of who I was as far as my heart, said Tuisasosopo, who told McGraw that he fell in love with Teo.
When Deadspin.com exposed the hoax in a story Jan. 16, the report raised questions about whether Teo was in on it. But Teo denied he was involved, and Tuiasosopo also said the All-American had nothing to do with the scam.
Kekua died the same day in September that Teos real grandmother passed away, and the story of the linebacker playing through the double tragedy became an often-told tale as Notre Dame went 12-0 in the regular season and earned a spot in the BCS championship.
Teo and his family had no immediate comment Friday.
In the McGraw interview, Tuiasosopo said he was the voice of Kekua and provided samples to McGraw and a producer. One of those samples, McGraw said, was compared by three separate laboratories with recorded voice mails sent by Kekua to Teo. They were a match, he said.
Tuiasosopo apologized to Teo, Notre Dame and his own family during the interview.