Manti Te'o trying to put hoax in the past
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The hardest part for Manti Te'o was the day his sister called and said she had to sneak her parents into their home in Hawaii to avoid the crush of reporters camped outside.
"Something that I've always had a problem with is when I can't do something about it," Te'o said Saturday at a news conference at the NFL scouting combine, where he is to perform for NFL talent evaluators in advance of the April draft. "That had to be the hardest part for me."
His emotions? "Just why?" he said. "It should never get that way. We have to realize we're all people, somebody is somebody's son, somebody is somebody's daughter. Would you want somebody doing that to your son? Would you want somebody doing that to your daughter? If not, why do it? Through this whole experience, I've learned that. Since I've experienced it, the things I see, the things I do, I try to always think 'That's somebody's son. That's somebody's daughter. That's somebody's mom, dad.' Whatever I do, try to base what I do off of that."
This was at the height of the media hysteria after a Jan. 16 report on Deadspin that said the Notre Dame linebacker was duped in an online hoax in which he had a relationship with a person he thought was a woman. It turned out that the woman he befriended online actually was a male acquaintance of Te'o who posed as Lennay Kekua. In September, Te'o was led to believe she had died of leukemia.
"It got overwhelming at times," the Notre Dame linebacker said. "The hardest part was not to see my first name but my last name . Everybody here, you treasure your last name. When you pass [away], that's the only thing that's left."
Te'o, who did not offer any more details about his online relationship, admitted he was embarrassed by the revelations when the story came out. "It's definitely embarrassing to go through," he said. "You go into the grocery store and give people double-takes to see if they're staring at you. But that's part of the process, part of the journey."
Te'o, the Heisman runner-up to Johnny Manziel, hopes he now can begin to concentrate on his NFL career and that the questions about the Internet hoax soon will fade away. It's unlikely that he'll ever get to the point that it completely goes away, but he is intent on showing teams in advance of the draft that he has moved on from the controversy. And learned from it.
"Everybody makes mistakes, and one of the positive things about what I went through is I've learned to empathize with those who are going through the same thing," he said. "Those who are going through some hard times, who are getting attention that they don't necessarily want. It just taught me to always give somebody the benefit of the doubt and say, 'You never know, you never know what's going on with a person.' "
And his focus now? "I'm focusing on the moment and focusing on football and the combine," he said. "Not everybody gets this opportunity to be here."
Te'o, who said he is not currently dating anyone, has spoken to officials from the Texans and Packers and said he has interviews set up with 18 other teams at the combine. It is expected that the Giants, who have the 19th overall pick and a need at inside linebacker, will talk to him.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese isn't worried about the player's online experience. "We're more interested in what kind of football player he is more than anything else,'' Reese said. "I think that these things get blown out of proportion a little bit. But we'll investigate it and we'll see where it goes.''
It's uncertain if the Jets, who have the ninth pick, will meet with him. They released inside linebacker Bart Scott last week but are expected to promote 2012 third-round linebacker Demario Davis to his spot. David Harris is the other inside linebacker.
Te'o said he has been open with anyone who has asked about the online relationship.
"They all ask me about it," he said. "[Teams say], 'Just tell me the facts.' They want to hear it from me. I just told them basically what happened."
He said he has not considered taking any legal action against Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who was behind the online hoax. Te'o maintains he was not involved in the hoax but admitted lying about it after it was discovered.
Te'o also thanked those family members, friends and close advisers who helped him through his difficult time. "Everybody who supported me, I couldn't do it without all of you," he said. "Hopefully after this, I can move on and talk about football."