2012 was a damn good year! Whitney Houston tragically died, the Twilight franchise ended, and Manti Te’o was madly in love, or so he thought. The following year, Te’o’s world collapsed when he discovered he had fallen victim to a dating scam.
Per ABC News, it all started in 2009 when Te’o received a friend request from a Facebook user by the name of Lennay Kekua. The two soon hit it off and formed a friendship based solely on texting and phone calls. Though there was never a physical meeting, Te’o confirmed to Sports Illustrated that he officially dated Kekua in 2011. The two would continue their romance until September 2012, when Kekua died following a car accident and a leukemia diagnosis. As Kekua’s death came just hours after his grandmother’s death, the soccer player was met with a surge of love and support from across the country. Unfortunately, that love and support soon turned to confusion as fans (and Te’o himself) soon discovered the harsh truth – Kekua didn’t exist.
A January 2013 exposé from Deadspin revealed that a person named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was behind the Facebook page. Kukua was not a real person and it was very clear that a young Te’o had been hooked. Tuiasosopo, now called Naya, and Te’o are the subject of Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist – a new Netflix documentary that delves deeper into the infamous scandal and where the two parties stand today.
Naya Tuiasosopo and Manti Te’o don’t have hard feelings for each other
With the scandal having a lasting impact on both, expect a small grudge between Naya Tuiasosopo and Manti Te’o. However, Maclain Way, one of the executive producers of Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist, insists the two parties don’t have hard feelings for each other. “There’s no bad blood between these people,” he told the New York Post.
Te’o shared similar feelings in an interview, telling how difficult it was for him to come to terms with the reality of the joke. “For the first three years, my life was extremely difficult and I was desperate for peace,” he told USA Today. “The only thing I could think about during that time was forgiveness, was to let it go.”
But accepting forgiveness not only brought Te’o some much-needed peace, it also opened him up to talk about the experience. “I challenged myself back then that if someone asks about it … I’m going to have these conversations, and I started to feel the power that I would get from speaking out about it,” he explained to CBS. Now both Tuiasosopo and the NFL star seem to have put the past behind them and only look to the future.
Manti Te’o hopes to inspire people with his story
A bright spot amidst the chaos; Manti Te’o accepts all the hardships he has faced in hopes of one day inspiring someone. “I take all this stuff, I take all jokes, I take all memes so I can be an inspiration [the] one [fan] who needs me,” he said (via Yahoo! Sport). Of course, Te’o doesn’t just say that, he lives it. In 2020, the NFL star married longtime girlfriend Jovi Nicole Engbino in an intimate beachside ceremony, per People. A year later, the couple welcomed a daughter, Hiro, according to Parade.
Naya Tuiasosopo, on the other hand, has made the best of the scandal and is now on her way to living her truth as a transgender woman. In 2014, Tuiasosopo performed in the “Dr. Phil Show,” where she admitted she learned to face her truth. “I had to face a lot of demons and a lot of truths myself,” she said. “Today I am so much more peaceful. i know who i am I’m so thankful and grateful.” In “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” Tuiasosopo echoed exactly that sentiment (via The Guardian), noting that she is who she is today “because of the lessons that I learned through life from Lennay”.