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Notre Dame star Manti Te’o claims to be victim of elaborate hoax regarding dead girlfriend

01.16.13 at 11:03 pm ET

Notre Dame standout linebacker Manti Te’o did not have a girlfriend who died of leukemia in the fall, as the whole story was a hoax that was exposed by Deadspin on Wednesday.

Notre Dame and Te’o responded to the story by claiming Te’o was the victim of the hoax, although the Deadspin account raises some questions about Te’o’s role.

Said Te’o in a statement:

This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.

I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.

Te’o and his family had claimed the linebacker was dating a Stanford student named Lennay Kekua, and multiple media outlets repeated Te’o’s claim that she was in a serious car accident early last year, months before she died in September at almost the same time as his grandmother’s passing.

Deadspin revealed that the woman did not exist, and that the photo purportedly of Kekua was taken from the Facebook page of a woman who lives in Southern California.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is related to four former NFL players and appears to be either a friend or relative of Te’o’s, has been accused of being behind the hoax.

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