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    Notre Dame's Star Football Player Had A Made-Up Dead Girlfriend

    According to Deadspin, Manti Te'o — Notre Dame's star linebacker and a Heisman trophy finalist — was involved in a yearlong hoax regarding a fake girlfriend who died of leukemia.

    This is Manti Te'o.

    Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT

    Manti Te'o is one of the best college football players in the country, a presumed first-round pick in the NFL draft, and the captain and star linebacker for Notre Dame, the storied program that lost in this year's National Championship against Alabama. And, according to a Deadspin report by Jack Dickey and Tim Burke published today, Te'o might have been involved in one of the strangest, most blood-chilling hoaxes in sports history.

    Stories about Lennay Kekua and Te'o have run in multiple national publications, including Sports Illustrated and on CBS News.

    But not only did Kekua never die: She is not real. Instead, she was the online creation of a friend of Teo's named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo — himself a relative of a number of former NFL players.

    @LennayKay you will always be with me wherever I go! Tell dad, BJ, papa Ima, papa Santiago, and grandma that I said hello! I love you! #574L

    @LennayKay you will always be with me wherever I go! Tell dad, BJ, papa Ima, papa Santiago, and grandma that I said hello! I love you! #574L-- Manti Te'o

    @LennayKay I miss you!-- Manti Te'o

    @LennayKay you've slept on the phone every night and although tonight you won't be on the phone...I know you'll still be there! #574L

    @LennayKay you've slept on the phone every night and although tonight you won't be on the phone...I know you'll still be there! #574L-- Manti Te'o

    I am here always @LennayKay love u

    I am here always @LennayKay love u-- Manti Te'o

    The second beam of light refers to Te'o's grandmother, Annette Santiago, who did actually die on September 11, 2012 at 72 years old.

    The photo, and other photos associated with Kekua that were put on fake Twitters by Tuiasosopo, were taken from another woman.

    Dickey and Burke point out a Fox Sports report that Te'o sent the grieving parents of a 12-year-girl who had died from a brain tumor a letter empathizing with them and referencing what he had been through.

    Te'o told Fox Sports, "Obviously, going through what I've gone through, with my girlfriend passing away from cancer, that whole thing hit home for me. My whole thing was just to reach out and let them know I'm here."

    Of course, it appears that this girlfriend did not exist.

    A devoutly religious Mormon, Te'o might have been complicit in making up the story of the dead girlfriend for publicity, Deadspin suggests.

    Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/MCT

    Update: Notre Dame has released a statement regarding Te'o:

    "On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.

    Dennis Brown

    University Spokesman | Assistant Vice President"

    Update 2: Manti Te'o has released 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."

    Here's a documentary made at the time of the Michigan State game, in which Te'o talks about the death of his "girlfriend."

    View this video on YouTube