Inside the 'Real Tragedy' of Manti Te'o Catfish Hoax

Netflix doc shows 'just how easy it was for him to get hoodwinked,' writes SI's Jimmy Traina
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2022 11:10 AM CDT

In 2013, the sports world was turned upside down when Deadspin reported that the girlfriend of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o, who was said to have died of leukemia, didn't exist. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who has since come out as a trans woman named Naya, admitted to creating the girlfriend as part of a catfishing scheme. She's now speaking in greater detail in a two-part Netflix documentary about the bizarre ruse that turned Te'o into a laughingstock and one of the most disliked athletes in America. As Tuiasosopo explains in Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist, which debuted Tuesday, per the Washington Post, "it was a black hole that consumed my life."

Tuiasosopo says she created the false identity of Lennay Kekua, using Facebook photos from an acquaintance, because she was struggling with her own identity. She was "hurting" and "I didn't care who I was hurting." A decade on, she wishes "that everything had been undone. But then also another part of me was like, I learned so much about who I am today and who I want to become because of the lessons I learned through the life of Lennay." At Sports Illustrated, Jimmy Traina calls her lack of remorse "stunning." "At its root, this is a story about how an innocent man had his life messed with in a sick way," he writes. Adds Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel, "the real tragedy of the Manti Te'o story is how a victim was turned into the butt of a joke."

Now married with a child, the 31-year-old NFL free agent notes he suffered years of physical and mental illness because of what happened. But therapy helped. Now, "I'll take all the jokes, I'll take all the memes, so I can be an inspiration to the one who needs me to be," Te'o says in the doc. As for how Te'o fell for the scam, Traina writes that the documentary does a superb job of "showing just how easy it was for him to get hoodwinked," as well as making clear just how much damage Te'o suffered in its aftermath. "If you don’t walk away from watching this series with, not a little, but a massive amount of sympathy for Te’o, you have no heart," he writes. (More Manti Te'o stories.)

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