Manti Te'o and his parents spoke on-camera for the first time Thursday since the story of the Notre Dame linebacker's dead girlfriend began to unravel and questions swirled about who was truly behind the lies.
In an interview with Katie Couric that aired Thursday, Te'o insisted that he was fooled into believing that Lennay Kekua, an invented online personality, was real, and that he had fallen deeply in love with her. He also flatly denied lying for the sake of his heroic image or to cover up his sexual orientation.
"For people feeling that they're misled—for that I'm sorry. I wasn't as forthcoming about it as I should have been, but I didn't lie."
He also insisted the hoax was not an elaborate way to conceal that he was gay. When Couric directly asked if he was gay, said he wasn't. "Far from it," he said. "Far from it."
Over and over, Couric asked how he could not have seen the signs, how he could have missed all the clues that this person didn't exist. She ticked off all the evidence: During FaceTime chats, he could never see her face, plans to meet face-to-face never came through.
Te'o confirmed that during their online chats, "Kekua" could always see him, but he could never see her. He said he would always complain to her about the chronic problem. "I don't know what's wrong with your camera, but I can't see you," he said he would say.
But he added that there were also signs that she and her story were real. During the time she said she was hospitalized, he would call and hear a respirator on the other end of the line. Kekua had also spoken to other people in his life, including his parents.
And Couric, who reviewed his phone records and voice mails, said there was plenty of reality.
"You listen to their conversations and it's of a boyfriend and a girlfriend, at least from her end," Couric said. "And yes, he stayed on the phone with her for hours upon hours while she was ostensibly in the hospital being treated for leukemia."
Couric played voicemails that Kekua had left for him. In one angry one, she cried after accusing him that another woman had answered the phone when she had called him earlier.
"I don't know who answered your phone and I don't care. I swear on my life I'm trying. You made it clear what you want. Take care," she said.
Te'o told Couric that there was no way that a woman had answered his phone since he was in his room with his phone and his door locked at the time Kekua said she had called.
In another voicemail, she was sweet.
"Hey babe, I'm just calling to say goodnight," she began, signing off with: "I love you so much hun, sweet dreams."
Couric asked if he thought the man who allegedly confessed to orchestrating the scheme—an acquaintance named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo—had been impersonating a woman's voice.
"It didn't sound like a man. It sounded like a woman," Te'o said. "But if he somehow made that voice, that's an incredible talent to do that, especially every day."
Tuiasosopo, Te'o said, had contacted him to reveal that the whole thing was a lie and to apologize for letting it go so far for so long.
Te'o said that Tuiasosopo had told him "he just wanted to help people and that this was his way of helping people."
"Obviously I didn't really say anything." Te'o explained. "I was so speechless."
Challenged by evidence that he spoke publicly about his girlfriend's death even after "Kekua" had contacted him months after he was told of her death, Te'o said he wasn't sure how to handle the whole situation when he began to realize that the whole thing could have been a lie.
"Katie, put yourself in my situation. My whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12 ... now I get a phone call on Dec. 6 that she's alive and I'm going to be put on national TV two days later and (they're going to) ask me about the same question? I mean, what would you do?"
Te'o did admit that he lied to his father and told him he had met the woman he had called the love of his life, in person.
"The biggest lie that I'm sorry for is the lie I told my dad." he said, adding that he always aims to please his parents.
Both his parents became emotional as they defended their son.
"I've known him 21 years of his life," his father said. "And he is not a liar." He said he worried for his son's safety when he learned the full story. He pointed out that Manti was at the end of his career and blackmail crossed his mind. "Is something going to solicit him later on?" he wondered.
His mother talked about how she and her husband had also been sucked into the hoax and had spoken to Kekua on the phone. But she also said that Manti's devotion to this woman—fake or not—as she battled with an illness, confirmed the kind of person he is.
"I am proud of his character."