A decade ago, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had become one of the most decorated defensive players in college football. He was the unquestioned leader of the team heading into the BCS national championship game. But none of that really matters anymore. That’s because Te’o became embroiled in one of the weirdest and most notorious catfishing cases ever. Te’o had forged an online relationship with who he thought was a college student named Lennay Kekua, who had been in a car accident and was diagnosed with leukemia. His supposed girlfriend’s tribulations were framed as a sort of inspiration for Te’o on the field, until he found out… that she didn’t exist.
Long story short, Kekua was actually a male named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who has since transitioned and is now Naya Tuiasosopo. While Tuiasusopo explored their gender via the online relationship, Te’o was catfished. Some pundits tried to accuse Te’o of being in on the ploy, but by all accounts he was an unknowing participant. The scandal went very public and Te’o’s draft stock slipped, sending him to the Chargers in the 2nd round. Today, he’s out of football after stints with the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears and he’s never really spoken at length about the scandal until now, and he says Jay-Z inspired him to do so.
With the recent release of Netflix’s documentary, Untold: The Girlfriend That Didn’t Exist, viewers will soon be privy to the ins and outs of the catfishing hoax. But Te’o said he wouldn’t have spoken out about it — let alone for a documentary — until something Jay-Z said at a concert made him change his tune. He explained that he went with some Saints teammates to the concert in 2017, saying on CBS Mornings, “And at that concert, Jay-Z opens up with saying these words: ‘You cannot heal what you don’t reveal.’ And it may have been just some random words to everybody, but for me, at that time, it hit me like a ton of bricks.” He added, “In order for me to kind of heal from this, I needed to reveal it.”
Untold: The Girlfriend That Didn’t Exist is streaming now on Netflix. Watch Te’o’s full CBS Mornings appearance below.