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Te‘o faces more questions from media, teams

February 24, 2013
By MICHAEL MAROT , The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Manti Te'o walked into a crowded room of reporters Saturday, took a breath and settled in for 15 minutes of NFL scouting combine history.

Again, the former Notre Dame linebacker explained how he had been duped into an Internet romance he had with a girlfriend he never met. He did his best to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter by talking football. This time, he even got to see it play out on live television 12 yards away - where three muted flat-screen monitors were in the Punahou School graduate's direct view.

He answered every question with thoughtful deliberation and tried to provide clarity on a hoax that turned one of the nation's most inspirational college football players into the butt of national jokes.

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Manti Te‘o

"I cared for somebody. That's what I was taught to do ever since I was young. Somebody needs help, you help them out," Te'o said.

Later he added: "People doubted me because I took a while to come out. From our point of view, we wanted to let everything come out first, and then let my side come out. The way we did it, I thought, worked best for me."

Te'o's too-good-to-be-true story began with his incredible performances after learning his grandmother and a woman he believed was his girlfriend had died within hours of each other in September.

The compelling story helped turn Te'o into a Heisman Trophy finalist as he led the Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season and into the national championship game.

In January, Notre Dame confirmed that Te'o had been duped into believing his girlfriend was a real person. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, later said he created the online persona of Lennay Kekua, a nonexistent woman with whom Te'o said he fell in love despite never meeting her in person.

Since then, Te'o had only agreed to a few interviews, all of them one-on-one.

On Saturday that changed as many of the 800 credentialed media members at the combine surrounded the podium in rows that went eight deep.

"It's pretty crazy," said Te'o, who has played most of his games on national television and was one of the most recognizable college players last season. "I've been in front of a few cameras before, but never as many as this."

Te'o said that in the two formal interviews he's had, with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans, he has been asked about the hoax. He has another 18 interviews left.

"It's definitely embarrassing. You walk into grocery stores and people give you double takes to see if they're staring at you," he said before explaining he's moved on. "If I was embarrassed, I wouldn't be able to stand in front of you."

NFL coaches and general managers seem to agree that the situation won't hurt his draft position.

Most say they are more concerned with the red flags of other players - drug use, alcohol abuse, academic woes and even criminal allegations - than they are with Te'o's tale.

"Somebody that's not truthful, that's big, to me," San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday. "I'm a big fan of the 'Judge Judy' show. And when you lie in Judge Judy's courtroom, it's over. Your credibility is completely lost. You have no chance of winning that case. I learned that from her. It's very powerful, and true. Because if somebody does lie to you, how can you ever trust anything they ever say after that?"

Two questions later, he was asked if that meant the reigning NFC champions would avoid Te'o in April's draft.

"No. I wouldn't say that," Harbaugh said.

Before Te'o spoke, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said: "Honestly, it's a distraction. If he can handle that distraction and still be able to perform on the football field, I really don't think it makes that much of a difference. We'll talk about it, we'll find out about it. The bottom line is, is he a good person and can he play football?"

Te'o said he realizes why teams are asking him about what happened.

"They want to be able to trust their players. You don't want to invest in somebody you can't trust," Te'o said. "With everybody here, they're just trying to get to know you as a person and as a football player, and I understand where they're coming from."



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