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As the entire sporting world questions the sincerity of Manti Te'o for perhaps the remainder of his life, you won't find Jack Swarbrick in that audience.
After discovering that the Notre Dame All-American linebacker's story about a fallen loved one during this past season was in actuality part of a scam, the Fighting Irish athletic director could not have been more supportive of Te'o and the belief that the player was “a victim” of a “sick and cruel joke.
The Web site Deadspin.com reported Wednesday that Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, did not actually pass away in September of last year as reported. In fact, she does not even exist. The California woman was simply a concoction of a scheme perpetrated by “several characters” to lure the Notre Dame standout into a bad situation, according to Swarbrick.
“Manti was the victim of that hoax,” Swarbrick said. “Manti is the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.”
Another trait that Swarbrick said that Te'o will carry with him is admiration.
The Fighting Irish linebacker was lauded nationally for his excellence on and off of the field throughout his storied career in South Bend. That legacy grew when he had to battle through the traumatic circumstances of enduring the death of his grandmother and, now alleged, girlfriend within 48 (or 24 hours depending on the varied reports) in September.
“I want to stress, as someone who has probably been as engaged in this as anyone in the past couple of weeks, that nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota,” Swarbrick said. “The same great young man, great student, and great athlete that we have been so proud to have be a member of our family is the same guy tonight, unchanged in any way.”
Te'o would argue that he is “unchanged.” He issued a statement filled with regret, as well as advice for others in getting involved in similar situations through social media.
“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,” Teo's statement read. “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.”
Te'o was heralded for his bravery in September when he did in fact, lose his grandmother. But the tragic death of Kekua to leukemia added to his lore.
“It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life,” Te'o said. “I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.”
Te'o has taught many lessons from the football field to those that follow him, but on Wednesday he was delivering life lessons.
“In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious,” Te'o said. “If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.”
At one point in Wednesday's news conference, Swarbrick was choked up with emotion as he talked about his sadness for the situation and the beloved player.
“Starting with my interaction on (December) 27th and beginning today,” Swarbrick explained, “its affected Manti as a person significantly. There's a lot of tragedy here. There's a lot of sorrow here. But the thing I am most sad of, sad about and sorry. That the single most trusting human being I've ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life. That's an incredible tragedy.”