Manti Te’o was one of the best players in all of college football in 2012, finishing second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy as his Notre Dame Fighting Irish went undefeated before losing in the national championship game to the Alabama Crimson Tide (Notre Dame’s wins have since been vacated because the team used ineligible players).
Te’o’s season was all the more remarkable as he revealed that that both his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day that September. Soon after the season concluded, however, it was discovered by Deadspin that Te’o’s girlfriend, named throughout that fall as Lennay Kekua, did not exist, setting off a firestorm of media attention greater than what had occurred during the season.
Eight years later, the saga is the subject of an episode of ESPN’s “Backstory” and will air on the network on Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. MST). The title of the episode is “The Tale of Te’o.”
In a press release announcing the show, ESPN investigative journalist Don Van Natta Jr. said, “This strange, complicated tale ranks among one of the more challenging stories of my 30-plus-year journalism career. Eight years later, there are plenty of lingering, intriguing questions about the saga.
Among them: Was Te’o complicit with his catfisher? And when talking with reporters, did Te’o purposefully or inadvertently fuel the legend with the words he chose about his girlfriend, whom he described as ‘the love of my life?’ And what does it say about media-made myths and the stories we all find irresistible?”
Te’o was taken in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft (38th overall) by the San Diego Chargers (now in Los Angeles), but despite a few bright moments, his career has never really taken off thanks in part to numerous injuries. He is now on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad.
Te’o was married to Jovi Engbino earlier this year.