USMagazine, Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 1:30pm (PST)
In the wake of the revelation that Manti Te'o's inspirational story -- about playing through the pain of losing his girlfriend and grandmother on the same day -- was a hoax, fans and critics alike have rushed to judgment regarding the Notre Dame football star's role in the whole ordeal. Te'o, 21, hopes to set the record straight in an exclusive interview with Katie Couric, airing Thursday, Jan. 24, on the veteran journalist's talk show, Katie.
ABC's Good Morning America offered a preview of the intimate sit-down on Wednesday, Jan. 23, with a clip in which Te'o confesses to briefly lying about his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, after he discovered she didn't exist. Admitting that he "stuck to the script" even though he "knew something was amiss," he says: "Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on September 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on September 12."
Or so he thought. And by the time he learned the truth -- via a phone call on Dec. 6 from the woman he believed to be dead -- he was already in too deep with the story. He claims he had no choice but to continue the ruse. So that's what he did. Two days later, at the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York, Te'o responded to reporters' questions about his late girlfriend as if nothing had changed. "You know, what would you do?" he asks Couric in the interview.
The football star denies, however, that his lies had anything to do with relishing the attention he garnered for his original story. "I think for me the only thing I basked in was that I had an impact on people, that people turned to me for inspiration," he tells Couric in another excerpt from the sit-down. "You know, my story, I felt, was a guy who in times of hardship and in times of trial really held strong to his faith, held strong to his family."
Te'o also says that even though Kekua turned out to be fake, the love he felt for her and the sadness he experienced after her invented death (before he learned of the hoax) were anything but. "What I went through was real," he insists. "You know, the feelings, the pain, the sorrow -- that was all real and that's something that I can't fake."
His parents, at least, believe he meant no harm. "Now, many people writing about this are calling your son a liar. They are saying he manipulated the truth, really for personal gain," Couric says to Te'o's father, Brian.
"People can speculate about what they think he is," Brian replies. "I've known him 21 years of his life. And he's not a liar. He's a kid."