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Linebacker Manti Te'o's online girlfriend, who supposedly died in September, never existed.
Manti Te'o, a linebacker at Notre Dame, said he was the victim of a hoax after it was revealed that his deceased online "girlfriend" may never have existed.
The Notre Dame football star and his fans believed that Te'o had a girlfriend named Lennay Kekua, who supposedly died of leukemia in September, reports Yahoo! Sports.
Te'o said he had developed a long-distance relationship a woman he had met online and was "the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke," reports USA Today.
The story of Keuka's death and the passing of Te'o's grandmother, who reportedly died within hours of each other, became central to Te'o's Heisman Trophy campaign and the success of his season with the Fighting Irish.
"I miss 'em, but I know that I'll see them again one day," Te'o told ESPN this autumn.
The hoax came to light after a Deadspin article that alleged the woman never existed. Reporters were not able to find any death records for Keuka or any proof she was a student at Stanford University, as she claimed.
Photographs identified as Kekua both online and on TV reports belong to an unidentified California woman who is not Lennay Keuka, reports Deadspin.
Te'o has since admitted that he never met Keuka in person but wholly believed she was his girlfriend.
"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," Te'o told USA Today.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he believes Te'o was the victim of a prank and that the university is standing by their star player.
"I want to stress, as someone who has been engaged in this as anyone the past couple weeks, that nothing I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota," Swarbrick told Yahoo! Sports.
Notre Dame said it hired an independent investigator to look into the hoax.