Former football player Manti Te’o made his first public appearance at Notre Dame since becoming the victim of a high-profile catfishing scheme involving a fake girlfriend.
The 31-year-old received a loud reception at his first public outing at the school in over a decade and his first at a game since Netflix released a two-part documentary series detailing how he was duped.
“It’s always good to be home,” said Te’o, speaking to fans ahead of Ireland’s game against California.
‘There’s no place like home. But I want to be very clear: it’s not about me. It’s not about a person. It’s about this whole family.”
He attended Mass with the team at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus before heading to the stadium with the team before the game.
He paused briefly with coach Marcus Freeman to address the crowd against the backdrop of Touchdown Jesus.
“This team needs all of us,” Te’o said. “It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon when everything is going great.
“It’s easy to get ahead when everything is right. But what I want to know is who’s with me?
“Who is going to get out of the wagon and start pushing with me? That’s why I’m here.”
Te’o gave fans high-fives as he walked through the crowd, pausing briefly to take photos. He said it is his fourth time at Notre Dame since news of the hoax broke.
Te’o was pleasantly surprised by the positive response to the Netflix documentary Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist, which released last month.
“All the facts are out there and I’m happy with that because it’s factual. It’s been nothing but positive since day 1.’
Before joining the San Diego Chargers as a second-round pick in 2013, Teo played linebacker and finished second in the Heisman Trophy while at Notre Dame — the award for college football’s most outstanding player.
He made national headlines in early 2013 after it was revealed that the woman he thought was his girlfriend for almost a year was actually a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Tuiasosopo – who later came out as a transgender woman – had fallen in love with the soccer star but was afraid to reveal her true identity, leading her to invent an entirely new online persona to woo Te’o.
Te’o met the woman, who he assumed was a 22-year-old Stanford student named Lennay Kekua, online in late 2011.
The two began communicating back and forth via social media before turning to phone calls and texting, and the athlete quickly fell in love with Kekua.
However, it was eventually revealed that Kekua was actually Tuiasosopo, one of Te’o’s childhood friends who later admitted she was “deeply in love” with the sports star, so she created the account using photos of one of her high school classmates, named Diane O’Meara.
When it came time for her to make calls, she hired his cousin Tino Tuiasosopo to speak to Te’o – and seduced the Notre Dame linebacker in a series of intimate phone calls that are said to have cemented their relationship despite the pair had never met in person.
She made up an entire backstory for Kekua, telling Te’o that she was involved in a terrible car accident and that during her recovery she discovered that she had leukemia.
Their tragic story soon captured Te’o’s heart. And in September 2012, about nine months into their relationship, Te’o was led to believe Kekua had died of cancer.
He told the crowd at a soccer game in Notre Dame on September 12 that he suffered the loss of his girlfriend and grandmother that same day – and was branded a hero for continuing to play despite grief at their deaths.
However, after receiving an anonymous tip about it, Deadspin reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey began questioning Kekua’s true identity, publishing a telltale article in January 2013 revealing that she was in fact not a real person.
It was later revealed that Kekua was really Tuiasosopo, and the shocking revelation quickly swept the nation.