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Manti Te'o, JT LeRoy and the Confusing Tale of Lennay Kekua

Manti Te'o sitting on the sidelines during Notre Dame's 20-16 victory over the USC Trojans at the Coliseum on Nov. 27, 2010. (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy on Flickr, Creative Commons)
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In the late 1990's and early 2000's, JT LeRoy was the hot young author. His harrowing works included the novel Sarah and short story collection The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things and detailed child molestation and rape, prostitution, drug abuse that struck a nerve with the public. His fans included Dennis Cooper, Gus Van Sant, Shirley Manson of Garbage. Even Asia Argento directed and starred in a film adaptation of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things in 2004.

Then on October 10, 2005, New York Magazine's Stephen Beachy blew the cover off the hoax revealing that JT LeRoy was actually a persona of musician Laura Albert. That shook the literary world at the time, and everything unraveled for Albert from that point on.

That brings us to Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua. Deadspin's Tim Burke and Jack Dickey blew the lid off of that story that so many sports journalists wanted to believe. Turns out the girlfriend whose leukemia was diagnosed after she got into a car crash and died hours after his grandmother died never existed.

Grandmother: real and dead. Girlfriend: fake.

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Te'o in a statement said:

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.

When the JT LeRoy thing went down, Albert's reaction was, "Who cares?" In a blog post Albert as LeRoy wrote, "I always said, I don't know who I am, so how can I own an identity?" T-shirts were also designed with the front saying, "i AM the real JT LeRoy, and the back with an image of wig and sunglasses.

It turned out people cared. A couple of fraud charges were filed and won. The interest in Albert and the JT LeRoy character disappeared almost overnight. It was something amazing to see happen back then.

And here we are again, although I might be one of the few people to have cared about the JT LeRoy case to be caring about this Manti Te'o fake girlfriend thing today.

The athletic director of Notre Dame Jack Swarbrick held a strange press conference where he burst into tears at one point and seemed to use the glass of iced tea at the podium like a teddy bear. Notre Dame is sticking behind Te'o saying that he was a victim of an elaborate fraud. He even dropped a reference to the MTV show "Catfish". Yes, it was surreal.

But there are plenty of unanswered questions.

1. If Te'o is claiming to be the victim, why did he claim to have met with Kekua while back home in Hawaii? Te'o's father Brian even told the South Bend Tribune that Kekua traveled to Hawaii and met with Te'o there.

If we are to believe that Te'o is the victim, this is something that is problematic. Most victims of these online frauds never see these people in real life. But Te'o has claimed to see her many times.

Perhaps Te'o was too embarrassed for getting caught up in all of this. Perhaps he's just a big fucking liar.

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2. If Te'o is claiming to be the victim, then who played the voice of Kekua? Te'o claimed that while Kekua was in the hospital on her deathbed, they would have eight hour conversations that would help her go to sleep. So who was she?

3. If Te'o is a liar, then why do this? There are tons of theories. He wanted to garner even more sympathy to win the Heisman. He wanted to do this just for the hell of it. He and the alleged creator of Lennay Kekua, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, were in a clandestine gay relationship as some Deadspin commenters suggested.

Things got even more diluted when former Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Mauia to have met Kekua. What the hell?

This story is so confusing. I have gone from being convinced Te'o was in on this to believing that Te'o is a real naive dumbass to now just trying to grasp the reality of this story.

But one has to wonder that a place that allows a student to video a football practice on top of a crane while winds were gusting over 50 mph, a place that allows football players to get away with not only raping women but bullying them to suicide allegedly, that this sort of story designed for the telenovelas is allowed to fester and explode. Rudy and the Gipper it ain't.

The problem for Te'o is he can't afford to disappear in the same manner that Albert/LeRoy did. He wants to play in the NFL. He better hope that he can convince us, at best, that he is a rube from the faraway islands of Hawaii and didn't know what he was getting into. Because if it does play out that he was behind this lie, the NFL will probably be the least of his worries.