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Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during Media Day for the BCS National Championship college football game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Miami. (David J. Phillip/AP)
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during Media Day for the BCS National Championship college football game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Miami. (David J. Phillip/AP)

The Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax: Did the football player know she was fake? Add to ...

Was Manti Te'o in on the hoax?

As the story goes, the University of Notre Dame's star football player led his team to the BSC championship, spurred on by his grief over the death of his long-distance girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. But as the website Deadspin revealed on Wednesday, the story isn't true. Te'o's girlfriend, who was said to have died of cancer, never existed.

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According to the Associated Press, Notre Dame has confirmed that it found no record of Kekua's existence, and said Te'o was deceived in an elaborate hoax.

In a statement, the linebacker himself also suggested he was a victim of online deception.

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said, according to The Associated Press. "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."

Yet if Te'o was, in fact, the gullible victim here, there remain some nagging questions.

As Bruce Dowbiggin reports in The Globe and Mail, Te'o's family was apparently wrapped up in the tale. His father, Brian, told the South Bend Tribune last October that Kekua and Te'o would meet on occasion whenever she travelled to Hawaii. One would think that if the couple had met in person, Te'o would realize that the woman passing herself off as Kekua did not match her online profiles. The images used on Kekua's social media profiles belonged to a stranger, who had no idea her photos had been pinched.

Moreover, Notre Dame's athletic director Jack Swarbrick told a news conference that Te'o became suspicious after receiving a call from someone who sounded like Kekua in December, some three months after Kekua supposedly died. The school then hired investigators, who uncovered "online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof" that pranksters had fooled Te'o.

But if the ploy had been uncovered in December, why did no one publicly speak up about it and correct media reports of the wrenching tale of the two lovers? And if Te'o really was the target of someone's cruel joke, what was the motive for going to such lengths to deceive him?

In a week when Lance Armstrong has finally admitted to years of lying about taking performance-enhancing drugs and to blood-doping, there is little chance these questions are going to be allowed to remain unanswered. How many more double-crosses can the public put up with?

Follow on Twitter: @wencyleung

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