(NEW YORK) — Manti Te’o listened Thursday on national television to taped phone calls from his fictitious girlfriend, including one in which “Lennay” was in a jealous fit and another telling him, “I love you so much.”
As he was hearing the recordings, Te’o looked at interviewer Katie Couric and said, “Doesn’t that sound like a girl?”
To this day, the star Notre Dame linebacker says he does not know who impersonated girlfriend Lennay Kekua for several years, including months of intense daily calls that sometimes lasted hours.
Couric asked Te’o in her exclusive interview whether Ronaiah Tuiasosopo — who Te’o claims called him on Jan. 16 and confessed to engineering the hoax — had impersonated the voice. A lawyer for Tuiasosopo is quoted in the New York Daily News saying it was Tuiasosopo who impersonated Te’o’s girlfriend.
“Well, it didn’t sound like a man. It sounded like a woman,” Te’o said to Couric. “If he somehow made that voice, that’s incredible. That’s an incredible talent to do that, especially every single day.”
Te’o, 21, has been alternately questioned and lampooned over his role in the hoax that led him and the public to believe that his girlfriend died of leukemia as Te’o led the Notre Dame football team to an undefeated season that culminated in the national championship game.
The sympathetic story also surfaced as Te’o’s name was being mentioned as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded to the best college football player in the country. Te’o was eventually the runner-up for the award.
Te’o admitted that even he wondered early on if this girl was too good to be true and asked some of her friends about her and wanted to know if anyone had met her in person.
To his friend, identified only as Lyell, Te’o wrote in a Facebook message, “I was just wondering because it does seem kinda weird and so I was like wondering if it was something else pulling a prank or something.”
The friend assured Te’o that she was not a “fake person.”
“Since I didn’t meet her and I didn’t see her in person and she just seemed nice and from the pictures she seemed very beautiful, and I needed to find kind of somebody who knew her and supposedly met her and ask them, ‘Hey, is this person real?'” Te’o said.
A skeptical Couric repeatedly pressed Te’o on some of the hoax’s red flags.
“Are you that technologically challenged?” she asked him when he said video chats with Kekua never worked because of a so-called camera problem that only showed a black box where Kekua’s face should have been.
“Either you are the most naïve person on the planet or this is the saddest story ever written,” she said at another point in her exclusive interview.
When the football player explained that scheduling conflicts and other issues prevented him from visiting his “dying” girlfriend in the hospital, Couric said, “Manti, that just really doesn’t make sense to me.”
Rumors have swirled that perhaps the fake girlfriend was a cover for Te’o’s sexuality.
“Are you gay?” Couric asked him.
“No. Far from it. Faaar from that,” he said with a chuckle.
Te’o said he still doesn’t know why he was the victim of a hoax that left him scared, confused and the butt of countless jokes.
Te’o says Tuiasosopo has spoken to him by Twitter and then in a phone call to confess to engineering the elaborate hoax, but gave little explanation for his actions.
“He just basically… explained what he did and why he did it,” Te’o told Couric. But he added, “He didn’t say why [he did it]. He just explained that he wanted to help people and that was his way of helping people, of being someone that he wasn’t…”
“Obviously, it didn’t really help me out, but, you know, I didn’t really say anything. I was still speechless. I just found out everything that I believed to be my reality wasn’t actually reality at all,” Te’o said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire