Ronaiah Tuiasosopo – Conspirator or Co-Conspirator?

One day, a million link clicks, and hours of reading later, here’s my opinion on the Manti Te’o scandal. Yes, I still consider it a scandal. And yes, I still find it wildly entertaining and pretty hilarious. When I first read the Deadspin article (http://deadspin.com/5976517/manti-teos-dead-girlfriend-the-most-heartbreaking-and-inspirational-story-of-the-college-football-season-is-a-hoax), I was convinced Te’o had created this girl out of thin air with the intention of bolstering likeability ratings and attention. And the truth is, I still believe that to some extent. I’m not so sure it’s fair to credit Te’o with the creation of Lennay, however. Rather, I think the credit for her creation and the back story currently seems to fall into the puppeteering hands of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a rather uncreative fella, it seems.

The Deadspin article mentioned above did give Tuiasosopo credit for requesting and stealing the pictures used to portray Lennay. And the article did tie Tuiasosopo and Te’o together as friends or at least acquaintances who talked on Twitter and seemed to have met in person. But the article couldn’t pinpoint how they knew one another or how the benefitted or likely profited from such an elaborate story. What did Tuiasosopo gain from Te’o’s fame?

So, my obsessive compulsive googling and Twitter searching has changed courses and is on the Ronaiah Tuiasosopo trail.

The Deadspin article seemed to allude, or at least made many readers, myself included, believe Te’o and Tuisosopo were lovers, and using this girlfriend story as a beard. It makes sense. As long as he has this girlfriend, Te’o would not be questioned for not having a relationship with another girl. Because, clearly, the number two college football player in the nation has girls throwing themselves at him. I’m a KU basketball fan, and past players as well as past and current students say girls wait inside and outside of Jayhawk Towers just to sleep with these guys. Sure, they’d take more of a relationship, but they love even having slept with these highly public and renowned and potentially future NBA superstar players. Just to say, “Yeah, I hooked up with him when he was at KU” was enough for there to be a waiting line. And I know girls who have slept with players. And were very proud of it. So, trust me, there were girls a plenty for Te’o. And if it was overwhelming, I don’t see the harm in creating a fake girlfriend to throw girls off the path. Especially if he were gay. And, honestly, I wouldn’t even judge that. How many gay NBA or NFL players do you know? I don’t know a ton about the sport, but don’t know any. The last guy I see coming out of the closet is a very devout Mormon at a Catholic college. Yeah, isn’t happening.

So that was my first theory.

Then there’s the Arizona Cardinals player, Reagan Maui’a. He claims Lennay Kekua is real. He’s met her. Guess how he met her? Through Tuiasosopo. Yes, that’s for real. Only this girl was in the flesh. And she was beautiful. Like a model and a volleyball player. Long, dark hair. They met on doing charity work for American Samoa in 2011. This was after Te’o allegedly met Kekua (a meeting that we’ve discovered never really happened).

Oh, by the way, after Pete Thamel released the interview from his Sports Illustrated articles, it turns out Te’o never claimed to have met her. In fact, Thamel suspected they’d met online. And when Thamel asked him how they met, he said, “You know, regular.” Whatever the hell that means. Good journalism, Thamel. On the other hand, if he was trying to respect his privacy or his embarrassment, couldn’t he have just said, “I won’t report it, but I want to clarify you met online.” Or something like that? Why’s everyone so spineless? I suppose you worry he’ll clam up and won’t finish the interview. So do a follow-up at the end of the interview. Sure, the kid’s embarrassed. But had people not been so afraid to ask questions, this may not have been such a big story. Anyway, the other thing that came out of the Thamel interview, which was definitely misleading, but also points to Te’o never claiming they’d med in person, was that they met at a Stanford game in 2009. That’s the game many said they met, and the bastardly South Bend Tribune, in their pulled article, gave an account of looking into each other’s eyes and reaching out hands. Blasphemy! Anyway, Te’o’s account was “she saw me.”

So, this makes me think, Kekua allegedly saw Te’o at a game, right? Then somehow she contacts him. And they start their online friendship, which apparently went nowhere until October 2011. Isn’t that about the time the college football season takes off? I don’t follow Notre Dame, but it makes me wonder if she kind of teased him along during that time, then when Te’o started to be a standout star, she moved in for the kill. So their whole relationship starts because she saw him and she probably contacted him (or was directed to her by Tuiasosopo).

The open ended nature of Te’o’s “she saw me” response could definitely lead the average person to believe they met. Had I read that and not been suspicious, I probably would have assumed “she saw me” meant she was the one who made the first move, WHEN THEY MET. But where the hell the South Bend Tribune came up with their account is beyond me. Of course, the article’s gone so it didn’t happen, right? Yes, I’m bitter.

Anyway, this Cardinals player has met Lennay Kekua. So is he in on it? Probably not. Guess who this girl was related to? Yeah, she was reportedly Tuiasosopo’s cousin. It seems like everyone in this story is cousins. Is this Arkansas? No, Hawaii. OK, I’m not trying to be mean, but I think there is liberal use of cousin and brother. Let’s all stop calling each other cuz and bro if you’re not related. So that’s one tie between fake Lennay Kekua and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. And why would Maui’a question it? If you met me and I said my name was Lennay Kekua, why would you think it wasn’t Jane? And why wouldn’t you argue when someone said I didn’t exist?

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo also was tied to the show The Voice, where he claimed he was in an automobile accident where everyone in the car almost died, and the doctors thought they all had brain damage. But miraculously they didn’t. It sounds like the show knew he was lying or at least over-exaggerating. Fortunately for those shows, they see the BS because many people on those shows lie or improve the truth to get on. That said, first Tuiasosopo himself was in this car accident that he almost died and there was fear of brain damage. Then the same thing happens to Lennay.

In fact, during the Thamel interview, Te’o tells the story about how Lennay was in a coma for months. And how he’d talk to her on the phone and her heart rate would increase and she’d start to cry. But she was in a coma. And potentially brain damaged. Then the doctors turn around as Te’o is about to fly home to Hawaii and are going to pull the plug. In the time he’s on the plane, the doctor says, “Hey, there’s one more treatment I want to try.” One more treatment? For a coma? For brain damage? To undo inevitable death? To snap her out of her vegetative state? So he gives her this “treatment” and suddenly she wakes up.

Thamel’s response, “Unbelievable.”

Yeah, because it is unbelieveable. There’s no way in hell this happens and there’s not a news story. Plug about to be pulled, miraculous recovery due to “treatment.” Then suddenly this girl has amnesia.

It’s all too much. Too much.

It floors me how little fact checking SI did. They did enough to find out Kekua didn’t graduate from Stanford. Couldn’t they have disproven she even went to Stanford at all? No, he assumes she just didn’t graduate.

They did enough research to discover they couldn’t find the car accident. So they removed reference from the story. Or reference to the DUI (of the other driver).

So, this girl as an unbelievable story. I’m trying to imagine telling this story to someone else and someone (probably a woman) not saying, “Seriously? You believe that?!” This Thamel guy is a reporter. He has fact checkers. They don’t at any point say, “No way this is true.” It sounds like they toned down the article, removing references to stuff or being more vague. Maybe they should have said, “Hey, we can’t corroborate any of this.” They couldn’t find her death certificate. They couldn’t find a single obituary. They’re saying the family probably wanted privacy. But, seriously, I’ve seen obituaries that say “private family service.” And don’t mention where. They don’t look for a grave or anything?

And speaking of that, neither does Te’o?

So, let’s go on a short Te’o tangent here before we get back to Ronaiah.

First, are we seriously to believe, his girlfriend’s dying. She’s getting unplugged. This is it. It’s over. And he flies OVER her? Like literally over her. From Indiana to Hawaii. The path is over California, right? Seriously, how the hell hard would it be to have a one night layover in California? I do not get that. You do not love someone if you don’t want to be there for them. And if he seriously believed her heart rate increased and she cried when he talked, that should make him more likely to go. Hell, I’d fly somewhere for a distant relative I have to love because I’m related but hardly know if my voice elicited this response. There’s no way in hell. Absolutely no way that he doesn’t stop and see her in person at least once before she dies. Even if they weren’t going to unplug her. Surely he stops. Coming, going whatever. Nope. Doesn’t stop. This, to me, is one of the biggest pieces of proof that Te’o was complicit in this whole thing.

Second, I know there are people saying, “He was scared.” Or, “He didn’t want to draw attention right before the game.” But seriously, this guy not only mentions his girlfriend twice after he knows she’s a fake. Well, after he allegedly finds out she was a fake, assuming he didn’t already know. Anyway, twice after he allegedly finds out, he mentions her. And not because someone asks about HER, he brings up the tragedy twice, free form. Asked what was the biggest thing from the season, mentions her. Asked about cancer, he mentions her. And THEN he went to a charity event. Not only after he knew, but after the school knew. And you know what else the school did? After they knew this was all a hoax, they continued to sell leis at the championship game. If anyone’s trying to tell me Notre Dame isn’t as bad as Penn State, I think they’re batshit crazy. There’s no way. Notre Dame benefitted from this hoax as much or even more than Te’o. And they continued to promote the tragedy and profit post-“find out.” Get it together Notre Dame. You and your Catholic righteousness. Get over yourselves.

Third, and this was already addressed in yesterday’s article, Te’o took the media’s oversell of the tragedy and ran with it. Not only that, but he let the spotlight in his family be torn from his grandma, who really deserved not only Manti’s attention, but the attention of his family. How can he do that? He has this girl he’s NEVER met. This girl who can’t even make him a priority when she’s supposed to be meeting him. A girl he doesn’t love enough to visit. EVER. Even when he flies directly over her. And this girl is more important than his grandma? And he’s selfish enough to have his family spend their time and sympathy on her, rather than his grandma? This is disgusting. Selfish, deplorable and sickening. Anyway, Te’o loved the attention. If it had been me and I had been too embarrassed to be all, “Yeah, so maybe it wasn’t THAT MUCH of a love story,” I at least would have avoided going on and on about it. Looking up to heaven and whatnot. This guy was an attention whore. Just like his buddy Ronaiah.

That said, it sounds like Ronaiah was looking for fame AND money. Manti’s uncle spoke on a radio talk show about how he met Tuiasosopo. Of course his version of the events in hindsight are probably a bit misconstrued and exaggerated, the facts are still there. First, the guy was toting around some girl named Pookah, who he said was his cousin, about nine years old. Second, he was pushing some cancer foundation he’d founded. Third, he claimed to be Lennay’s cousin, which corroborates Maui’a’s story. Finally, he was trying to raise money for another Stanford student (just like Lennay) who had Leukemia (just like Lennay) who couldn’t afford college because of treatments. So he was trying to push his foundation, AND he was trying to raise money. Look, two sob stories. You should throw money at at least one of them!

The Pookah girl is important to mention only because Manti’s uncle said she wasn’t allowed to talk. Ronaiah stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders and she only nodded her head yes or shook her head no. That’s very strange for a nine year old. But also because ANOTHER person had a run-in with Ronaiah and Pookah.

In the Deadspin story, there was reference to Lennay’s fake sister, who popped up on Twitter. For this account, Tuiasosopo stole pictures from another woman’s account. Her name was Donna. Donna was not involved, just like the woman Deadspin calls Reba, whose pictures were used as Lennay. Anyway, when Tuiasosopo created the sister’s account, a Notre Dame fan became friends with the sister, and made plans to meet her at the USC-ND game. When it came time to meet, however, the sister “couldn’t make it down” (I assume from the stands, but maybe to the game at all?). Instead, guess who shows up? Tuiasosopo. And Pookah. They take a picture together. But after the picture’s taken Tuiasosopo gets all freaked out and says not to post the picture. Later the fake sister contacts this ND fan and also mentions not posting the picture. Later on, either Lennay’s fake sister or Tuiasosopo told this Notre Dame fan that Pookah was sick. I believe with cancer, but it could have been any other disease. It doesn’t sound like this fan gave anyone money. But it sounds like that’s what they were hinting at needing. I’m sure, given enough time, or if the fake sister hadn’t been removed from Twitter once the fake pictures were discovered, money would have exchanged hands.  

So, although Deadspin article tied Tuiasosopo to the creation of both Lennay’s and her sister’s accounts, and the acquisition of said pictures, there wasn’t as much information on him as has unfolded in the last day. Tuiasosopo isn’t responding to any media requests.

Tuiasosopo’s father, Titus, released a somewhat sarcastic statement referencing “many who were born in a manger in Bethlehem and continue to walk on water will express their opinions.” What? Seriously? Your son is a sniveling liar and opportunist? And you’re pointing fingers at others? Maybe you don’t release a statement at all? Or you do, but don’t point fingers out that should be pointing in. All signs point to your son leading up this hoax. And it sounds like it was all for fame and profit. And history also says that this same son has dedicated himself to the church you pastor. Don’t send the media down a trail auditing your church. If he’s so invested in this church but at the same time is fame and money hungry, how do those who tithe to your church feel? Do they feel good that the money they’ve given have gone to noble causes? Is it trustworthy? Or does extortion run in the family?

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