We’ve now finally heard Manti Te’o directly address his fake girlfriend scandal. Aside from a hands-off statement and a single interview given to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap last weekend, the saga that has gripped the media since the sports blog Deadspin first broke the story Jan. 16, we’ve heard little from the star Notre Dame linebacker on the apparent hoax he fell victim to. Appearing Thursday on Katie Couric‘s ABC show, Te’o faced critical questions about his involvement in the scandal — what he knew, and when he knew it — and later appeared with his parents, Brian and Ottilia, as he discussed the pain the scandal has caused for their family.
Couric, perhaps best known for her 2008 interview of Sarah Palin, then the vice presidential nominee, again came out armed with hard-hitting questions meant to cut to the core of Te’o's involvement. But the 21-year-old Hawaii native reiterated much of what we’ve already heard: he, too, was utterly taken in by the fake relationship, to the point that he didn’t notice any of the red flags that in retrospect seem readily apparent. Here are the five most emotional exchanges between Couric and Te’o from Thursday’s broadcast.
On how they met:
[A Sports Illustrated reporter] asked you “How did you meet her,” and you responded “We met just – she knew my cousin.” Later you told him you met at a USC game your sophomore year, that you were just friends then. Can you see why people would view this as, at worst a complete lie, and at best as incredibly misleading?
For people feeling like they’re misled, that I’m sorry for. I wasn’t as forthcoming about it — but I didn’t lie. I never was asked, “did you see her in person?” Through the embarrassment and the fear of what people may think, I was committed to this person who I didn’t have the chance to meet and she all of a sudden died — that scared me. To avoid any further conversation I kind of wasn’t as forthcoming as I should have been.
Aren’t you splitting hairs here, Manti? Didn’t you say things that weren’t true, and isn’t that, in essence, lying?
I think the biggest lie that I’m sorry for is the lie I told my dad. When he asked me “Did you see her,” I said “Yes.”
On trying to connect face-to-face with Lennay:
You attempted a few times to talk to her through FaceTime, and you would see, basically, what, a black box, and she would say to you “I can see you, I don’t know why you can’t see me.” Didn’t you think that was a little weird?
To be honest, no.
Are you that technologically challenged?
I would see a black screen and say I don’t know what’s wrong with your camera, but I can’t see you. I wasn’t paying attention, I guess.
On his sexuality:
One of the theories making the rounds is that somehow you created this scenario to cover up your sexual orientation. Are you gay?
No, far from it. Faaaar from it. [audience laughs]
On those eight-hour phone calls:
We actually looked at your phone bill and we did indeed see dozens of calls, a few lasted for hours, several hours. I understand you’d fall asleep with the phone next to you connected to this individual.
It goes back to what my parents taught me, just always be there for somebody when they need help.
On coming clean to his family after finding out Lennay was alive:
So you got home and on Christmas Day, Manti tells you what?
Brian Te’o, father: Merry Christmas. [laughs]
Ottilia Te’o, mother: It was a difficult conversation. It took him a while to finally say it, and he basically said, “Lennay’s alive.” And it was complete and utter shock. The reason I say that is because the belief in this person and the deception wasn’t just with Manti, it was our entire family. We had conversations with this person, so in our mind we had followed the same pattern as Manti.