The emotional and heartbreaking story about the beginning of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o’s season is well known by now. On Sept. 12, Te’o’s grandmother and girlfriend died within six hours of each other. Te’o, a Heisman Trophy finalist, said that the deaths helped inspire him to play better.

The problem with the story: The girlfriend did not die. In fact, she wasn’t even real. A Deadspin article Wednesday reported that it couldn’t find any record of Lennay Kekua ever existing.

But that’s not all. The story took another bizarre turn when Te’o responded to the Deadspin piece by claiming he was the victim of a “sick joke.”

In a statement, he said:

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.

The university also released a statement Wednesday, saying that the Heisman Trophy finalist was 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 New York Times:

At a news conference Wednesday night, Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s athletic director, said Te’o received a phone call in early December from a number that he thought to be Kekua’s. The voice on the phone was one he had believed to be hers, Swarbrick said, and the person was telling Te’o that she was not dead. Te’o and his family told the university about the situation on Dec. 26, Swarbrick said, at which point Notre Dame asked an independent investigative company to look into the matter.

Much remains unclear about whether Te’o was duped or whether he somehow perpetrated the fictitious story of having a girlfriend who died in September, during the season.

…Swarbrick said the university investigation found that the motive for creating a fake persona to trick Te’o had simply been the sport of it. He said the perpetrators’ hoax played out much like the 2010 film “Catfish,” in which a woman built a fake online persona in an attempt to create a relationship.

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According to Deadspin, the person alleged to have perpetrated the prank is 22-year-old Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is believed to have known Te’o.

— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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