In this article:
- Netflix recently released Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist, a documentary about the Manti Te’o catfishing scandal that rocked the world of college football back in 2012.
- The two-part documentary features lengthy interviews with both Manti Te’o and the woman responsible for catfishing him, both of which go into great detail about exactly how the scheme was carried out.
- After the release of the documentary, Te’o has taken to social media and interviews to tell the world how much he appreciates the support for him and his family.
Manti Te’o’s senior season at Notre Dame wasn’t remembered for the 55 solo tackles and 7 interceptions he recorded. It was remembered for the unfathomable catfishing scandal that swept across media outlets like a tidal wave.
Ever since, Te’o’s name has been inextricably linked to this strange story even after several successful seasons in the NFL.
However, the Manti Te’o catfishing scandal became old news and most of us forgot about it until we’d see his name on the back of an NFL jersey and say something like, “Hey! Isn’t that that guy who got catfished? What ever happened with that whole thing?”
The truth is that very few people actually had a solid grasp on what happened with that whole thing. Until now, that is.
Earlier this year, in 2022, ten years after the fact, Netflix released a documentary titled Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist about the scandal and all of our memories traveled back to the place we were when we first heard that Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend never existed.
This documentary features lengthy interviews from Manti Te’o and Naya Tuiasosopo (the woman who catfished Te’o) and sheds an incredible amount of light on the events behind the strange news stories that flooded the media in 2012.
Even if you aren’t a football fan, this is a documentary that is definitely worth watching. And one person that’s definitely happy that it’s gaining so much popularity is Manti Te’o, who took to Instagram before the documentary’s release to say that it was dedicated to “all the people that have supported me and have stood up for me.”
The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist
For those of you who haven’t seen the documentary or are unfamiliar with the story, Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist details the events that led up to one of the strangest stories ever in college football.
Manti Te’o, a linebacker for Notre Dame who led his team to the National Championship game and was one of three finalists, told the world earlier in the season that his grandmother and girlfriend had died on the same day and that he was dedicating the rest of the season to them.
However, after people became interested in who Te’o’s girlfriend was and how she’d died, it came to light that the woman he claimed to be his girlfriend did not exist.
The documentary traces the story all the way back to 2008 when Naya Tuiasosopo (who has recently transitioned into a woman and was going by the male name Ronaiah at the time of the scandal) created a Facebook profile under the name of Lennay Kekua.
Naya grew up in a conservative Christian household where God and football were the pillars of home life. Creating this Facebook profile was a way for Naya to express her true identity in a society and time where homosexuality and transgenderism were frowned upon.
Eventually, she began chatting with Manti Te’o under the guise of Lennay Kekua. And, soon after, the two entered into a committed relationship despite never having met one another.
Eventually, fearing that she was in too deep, she decided to fake the death of Lennay Kekua so that Te’o would never find out that he was being catfished. However, she decided to fake the death on the same day that Te’o’s grandmother had actually died (for reasons that I, personally, cannot begin to understand).
She called Manti and Manti’s parents on the phone pretending to be Lennay’s brother. She told the Te’o family that Lennay had died and allowed them to console her on the same day that they had actually lost a loved one.
Naya Tuiasosopo has admitted that this was wrong, but tries to help the audience understand where she was coming from throughout the documentary.
Naturally, Manti Te’o was affected emotionally by the loss of two of his beloveds in the same day; however, he was still able to perform at a high level on the football field.
But, when news broke that there was never a woman by the name of Lennay Kekua (which was also news to Manti), his play started to decline, contributing to a loss at the National Championship game and a hit to his NFL draft stock.
In documentaries that detail scandals such as these, it seems rare that you get interviews from both the victim and the perpetrator of the scandal. But that’s what makes Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist such a great film.
While there is definitely a lot of time contributed to hearing Manti Te’o’s side of the story, there is pretty much an equal amount of time allotted to hearing Naya Tuiasosopo’s.
Due to this, the audience gets a firsthand look at the intricacies that were involved in carrying out such a hoax. Naya Tuiasosopo was able to convince Manti, his family, and his friends that Lennay Kekua was a real living person.
For a while, she convinced the entire world of college football that she was dead. She also spoke in several different voices, pretending to be Lennay’s brother and parents. Executing this scheme to the degree that she did required a high level of skill.
On Manti’s side, the audience gets a deep look into how this entire scandal affected his football career, his mental health, and his private life. Before the scandal, Manti Te’o was looked at as a leader by his peers.
However, after the scandal went public, he was the butt end of a joke, the weirdo who got duped into thinking he had a girlfriend on the internet. He lost his confidence and it affected his performance on the field. He felt like he was in a fog.
He wished he could go back to his life before the scandal had ever happened.
Not only did this scandal affect Te’o mentally, but also financially. After the scandal broke, NFL teams seemed hesitant to draft Te’o. After being projected as a first-round draft pick earlier in the season, Te’o fell to the second round.
Because of this, his salary was millions of dollars less than it would of been had he been drafted first round.
Manti Speaks Out
Despite all of the hardship that this scandal has caused him, Te’o has continued to work hard and try to be a leader on the field and off. He has forgiven Naya Tuiasosopo, although the two have not spoken since the hoax was first revealed.
He has also gone to therapy and started to work through the trauma that this situation caused him.
Still, it seems important to Manti that he got to speak on the details of this story in a public way. He recently posted a heartfelt video on Instagram, thanking all those who showed support for him and his family after the release of the documentary, saying:
“I just wanted to come out here real quick to give a heartfelt thank you to everybody who has come through and has shown so much love to me and my family, for your messages, for your comments. It’s been amazing to me to hear the battles that we’re all facing, the challenges that we’re facing in our lives at this time, and how the documentary has given some of us hope, the extra push just to keep going. If there’s anything that I wanted from this thing was just to give some of us hope who needed it, to tell those who needed some love that they’re loved, and to help them to forgive.”
Te’o has also expressed that he’s happy that Naya got to share her story as well. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, he said “I’m grateful that Naya was able to go on there, and I’m sure it wasn’t comfortable for Naya as well, but I wanted it.”
Ultimately, Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist is the story of Manti Te’o’s perseverance and ability to forgive.