If you’re an NCAA football fan, chances are you've heard “Manti Te’o” and “fake girlfriend” used in the same sentence. In 2013, the sports blog Deadspin reported that part of Manti Te’o’s inspirational story — that he’d dedicated his senior-year season at Notre Dame football to his late girlfriend and grandmother, who had died within hours of each other — was a hoax. While his grandmother had indeed passed, the girl he had supposedly been dating, Lennay Kekua, never existed. The revelation caused such a media riot that it’s been described as “the most important story in sports internet history.”
But as revealed in Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist, a two-part documentary available now on Netflix, the Deadspin report was news to Te’o, too. The film explores how Te’o became the victim of a “very elaborate [and] very sophisticated” catfishing hoax perpetrated by Ronaiah “Naya” Tuiasosopo, a former acquaintance of the football star. [Editor’s note: While Tuiasosopo primarily uses the nickname “Naya” now, a Netflix rep confirmed to Bustle that she still goes by Ronaiah as well.]
So what exactly happened back then, and what became of the former NCAA star? Below, everything to know about where Manti Te’o is now.
How Did Manti Te’o Get Catfished By “Lennay Kekua”?
When Te’o was a freshman at Notre Dame in 2009, he accepted a Facebook friend request from “Lennay Kekua,” a young woman who claimed to be a student at Stanford University. However, it was really Tuiasosopo — a woman who presented as male at the time — who operated the account, using photos of a high school acquaintance to disguise herself. Tuiasosopo and Te’o chatted for four years, and started “dating” their last year of contact, during which they only communicated by text message or phone call. Te’o’s busy practice schedule, as well as the long distance between them, made it possible for Tuiasosopo to conceal her real identity for so long.
In the months leading up to the Deadspin exposé, Te’o revealed to multiple outlets that both his grandmother and girlfriend had died separately on Sept. 11, 2012. The heartbreaking story was widely reported, and Te’o was hailed as an inspiration. He performed so well that year, he soon became a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Te’o learned that Tuiasosopo was behind “Lennay Kekua” when the Deadspin investigation dropped. The then-22-year-old athlete later clarified that he’d never met Kekua in person, and the screen was always black whenever they spoke over video chat. “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,” Te’o said in a statement shortly after the Deadspin report. “To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”
Where Is Manti Te’o Now?
Despite the negative media blitz, Te’o was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2013, where he played as a defensive linebacker for four seasons. He then signed a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints, before moving to the Chicago Bears in 2020. As of 2022, he is an unsigned free agent with the NFL.
Te’o remains relatively active on Instagram. He announced his marriage to Jovi Nicole Engbino, a personal trainer and beauty consultant, in Aug. 2020. They welcomed their first child, Hiro, a year later, and they are expecting another child, per CBS News.
Though he and Tuiasosopo are no longer in communication, Te’o stated at the end of the documentary that he “forgives” Tuiasosopo.