One big discrepancy in the Manti Te’o hoax story revolves around whether the star linebacker ever met Lennay Kekua or anyone he thought was her in person. His father, Brian Te’o, told the South Bend Tribune the couple met more than once, but Notre Dame and Manti have said a face-to-face meeting never happened.
South Bend Tribune sportswriter Eric Hansen spoke with WSBT-TV Thursday, claiming he still has the tape recording from that interview. Hansen said he shared it with his editor but was not willing to release it publicly – saying he wanted to give the Te’o family time to return his phone calls and emails.
One of the first things Hansen did after Deadspin.com broke the story Wednesday afternoon was go back to that recording to make sure he didn’t misquote Brian Te’o.
The October 13th article on the front page of the Tribune read like a romance novel:
It never felt like a chance meeting, although it probably appeared that way from the outside looking in. Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.
“They met at Stanford his freshman year, they shook hands. This was an in-person meeting and there were subsequent meetings in Hawaii when Manti would go home. Again from listening to the tape I don't think Brian ever saw her or met her,” Hansen said.
Brian and Otilia Te’o sat down with Hansen at a hotel in Mishawaka for that interview. The sports writer told WSBT he held on to the tape of the conversation as he does most of his interviews.
“The thought was, and it’s on the tape, this was going to be Wake Forest weekend and they were going to meet her. Brian talked about, ‘this could be our daughter in law,’” Hansen said.
But somehow the woman Manti appeared to love then lose to cancer turned into a hoax. And it’s rattled Hansen.
“It shakes you up,” he said. “Because of all the people that I thought I could believe and still think I can believe, Manti Te'o – of all the people I've ever interviewed in 30 years would be close to if not at the top of that list.”
Hansen’s known the Te’os since Manti was a freshman and interviewed them dozens of times. But now he’s torn between a family he’s always trusted and reports that say perhaps, he shouldn’t.
“That’s again what I’m trying to get to the bottom of – what’s real here and what’s not? Is Manti a victim? Is somebody else a victim? Do I need to do my job differently when I’ve had multiple sources I trust confirm things? Do I need to go get a picture of a corpse?” Hansen asked.
Hansen says he's called and emailed the Teo family and some other contacts in Hawaii, trying to clear it all up.
Hansen also said he talked with Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick after Wednesday night’s press conference and said Swarbrick was able to close a few other loopholes for him.