The man at the centre of the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax has admitted to talk-show host Dr Phil McGraw that he had “romantic feelings” for the Notre Dame college football star.
“Here we have a young man that fell deeply and romantically in love,” McGraw told NBC of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the mastermind behind the embarrassing lie.
“Ronaiah had a number of life experiences that damaged this young man in some very serious ways.”
Tuiasosopo was a family friend of Te’o who created ‘Lennay Kekua’, the girl who survived a car accident and died of leukemia.
Tuiasosopo led on the linebacker, pursuing a relationship via online and telephone contact. The photo Te’o had of Kekua was actually of an old classmate, Diane O'Meara. The voice he spoke to on the phone was not Kekua either. Some reported it was the voice of Tuiasosopo’s female cousin, Tino, but Tuiasosopo admitted to McGraw that it was in fact his voice on the other end of the line.
“I asked him straight up, ‘Was this a romantic relationship with you?’ And he says yes. I said, ‘Are you then therefore gay?’ And he said, ‘Well, when you put it that way, yes.’ And then he caught himself and said, ‘I am confused,’” McGraw said.
Te’o confessed in an interview with Katie Couric last week that he had never actually met Kekua, despite claiming as such throughout 2012 as his tragic loss drew many sympathisers. He also vehemently denied to Couric that he was a homosexual.
Previewing the much-anticipated interview with Tuiasosopo, set to air later in the week, McGraw said he asked whether Te’o had knowledge of the hoax.
“Absolutely, unequivocally, no,” McGraw repeated.
Te’o’s story of heartache after the death of his grandmother and supposed death of his girlfriend, struck a chord with the US public. His display of strength on the football field in the face of adversity was admired by millions. He was one of three finalists in the running for to win college football’s highest honour – the Heisman Trophy.
Tuiossospo is aiming to put the issue to bed by confessing to the hoax and sharing his side of the story.
“I wanted to end it because after everything I had gone through, I finally realized that I had to move on with my life, and had to get me, Ronaiah, to just start living and let this go,” he said.