Manti Te'o became a household name in 2013, and unfortunately it wasn't necessarily for his skills on a football field. The Notre Dame linebacker fell victim to one of the most highly publicized catfish schemes ever, and he's reliving that trauma once more in the two-part Netflix series Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist.
There are a lot of layers to Te'o's sad tale, including the heartbreaking ways it haunts him to this day. Whether you're unfamiliar with the catfish catastrophe or just want a refresher, here's what to know about the infamous Manti Te'o catfish, as well as about Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend and what happened to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (who now goes by Naya Tuiasosopo).
Who was Manti Te'o's girlfriend?
Te'o, a linebacker for Notre Dame's Fighting Irish, famously believed he was in a relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua, despite never meeting her in person. However, The South Bend Tribune (via Deadspin) reported that Te'o and Kekua, who claimed to be a Stanford student who lived in Palo Alto, California, met after a football game in 2009. Te'o and Kekua allegedly struck up a friendship over the next few years, chatting online and over the phone, with Te'o's father noting that Kekua occasionally visited Te'o when she traveled to Hawaii.
Then the story gets even murkier.
Sometime in 2012, Kekua got into a car accident that left her "near death," but different outlets report different timelines. Some say it happened as soon as she and Te'o's relationship went from platonic to romantic, others say it was April, while others say it was in January.
In June 2012, as Kekua is recovering from injuries she suffered in the car crash, her doctors reportedly diagnosed her with leukemia. She spent time in treatment and was released from the hospital on Sept. 10, 2012, with Te'o's father reportedly congratulating her over the phone.
Then, on either Sept. 11 or Sept. 12, 2012—depending on which source you seek—Kekua died. It was the same day that Te'o's grandmother, Annette Santiago, passed away.
Except ... None of that was true, because Kekua did not exist.
Confused? So was the world. So was poor Manti Te'o. Read on.
Who was Manti Te'o's catfish?
Lennay Kekua was not a real person, but a persona adopted by Naya Tuiasosopo (who then went by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo). Tuiasosopo catfished Te'o big time. During an interview on Dr. Phil in January 2013 (via The Associated Press), Tuiasosopo said that Te'o had "no involvement" in the catfish and had no clue that Kekua wasn't real.
"I pretty much had this escape of Lennay and this was where my heart had pretty much invested, not just time, but all of my energy went into this," Tuiasosopo, who then hadn't yet transitioned, said at the time. Tuiasosopo said that she felt that Kekua had essentially become part of her and that her feelings for Te'o were genuine—and that the catfish heard 'round the world was neither a cruel joke nor a ploy to get any sort of financial incentive.
"As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person," she insisted. "I did all that I could to help this person become a better person, even though I wasn't getting nothing out of it." She added that Te'o seemed to be a better person after his girlfriend who didn't exist "died," noting, "If you really look at all his interviews, he felt that. When he was under the understanding that he lost her, he realized all the good that Lennay had done for him."
Tuiasosopo explained that she "killed" Kekua after she and Te'o had gotten into an argument in which Te'o told Kekua that he didn't need her. "It hurt me. It hit me like a brick wall. I was like, 'Whoa, I've given so much into this,'" she said. "And I realized right then in that moment, that I poured so much into Lennay, that I myself was getting nothing, and look what I was left with."
What happened to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo?
Since the scandal broke, Tuiasosopo has transitioned and began living as a woman. The executive producers of Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist, Chapman Way and Maclain Way, told the New York Post that they found Tuiasosopo on Instagram and that she details her own personal journey in the documentary.
“One day we found Naya. Then we reached out and told her a little bit about our show Untold. We got Naya on the phone and she was incredibly raw and open and vulnerable about this whole journey. She’s been going over [it] the last couple of years [during the making of Untold] ] and talking to her, we realized, like, 'Man, there’s probably a really incredible story here that goes beyond the headlines.'"
Maclain said that Tuiasosopo and Te'o don't harbor any ill will towards one another.
"There’s no like, bad blood between these people. But between them two, they each recognize the journey that each other had to go on," he said. "And I think that they just accept this as something that did happen, that did have a tremendous impact on both their lives, but obviously they’re willing to talk about it now."
Where is Manti Te'o now in 2022?
These days, Te'o has a wife who does exist. In August 2020, he married Instagram fitness personality Jovi Nicole, to whom he'd been linked since 2016. "I couldn't give you the world but I think I did better ... I gave you my last name and it looks good on you Mrs. Te'o," he wrote.
Nicole wrote in a post of her own, "Yesterday I got to marry my best friend and the love of my life in an intimate beach ceremony. Although this was not how we envisioned our ceremony, it was perfect. We will be having our reception and celebration when Temples and venues open back up so we can share this special occasion with our families and I couldn’t be more excited. #joviteo.”
The Te'os welcomed a daughter named Hiro on Aug. 12, 2021.
Where is Manti Te'o playing in the NFL?
Te'o is currently a free agent for the NFL. He previously played for San Diego Chargers for four years, then the New Orleans Saints for two years. He then was on the Chicago Bears practice squad before being moved to the team's active roster in January 2021.
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Is Manti Te'o still on the Bears?
How much does Manti Te'o make?
Did Manti Te'o get drafted?
Te'o got drafted to the San Diego Chargers. He came in sixth in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. Though many speculated that Te'o didn't get drafted in the first round because of the circus then surrounding his personal life, insiders believed it was due to his overall performance, not his catfish scandal.
Who did Manti Te'o lose the Heisman to?
He added, "I always wanted to be the best. I just use that as motivation to be the best I can be. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do. I'm just excited to get back and get things cracking ... Go back home, see all my brothers, get back into the groove of things. Get the pads back on, smack around some guys, study a lot of film. That's what I love about all this time, I have weeks and weeks to study film. Usually, I'll have about three days to study film, but now I've got three weeks to study film."
What team did Manti Te'o play for?
Te'o played for Notre Dame in college. Professionally, he has played for the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears in the NFL. He is currently a free agent in the league.