Manti Te'o decided to share his catfishing experience in 2012 when he thought his online girlfriend, whom he had never met, had passed away in a Netflix documentary. In a recent interview, he reflected on how it changed his life and decided to share it in order to heal.
Why Did Manti Te'o Share Catfishing Experience In Netflix Documentary
The two-party documentary Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist premiered on Netflix Tuesday. Manti Te'o discussed the experience when he appeared on CBS Mornings and shared the reason why he agreed to make a documentary of the experience.
"In order for me to kind of heal from this, I needed to reveal it," he told the hosts. "I challenged myself at this time that if anybody asked about it or had questions about it, that I would be open and I would have those hard conversations, and I started to feel the strength that I would get from talking about it."
Te'o is now married to Jovi Nicole Engbino, a personal trainer and beauty consultant. They exchanged "I do's" on Aug. 29, 2020, six months after they got engaged.
The couple has a daughter and a son on the way.
As he reflected on the experience, he encouraged those dealing with mental health issues to seek help.
"That's something to not take lightly," he said.
What's The Story Behind Netflix's Documentary Inspired By Manti Te'o's Catfishing Experience
Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist is a two-part documentary that debuts on Netflix's Tuesday. It followed the Te'o when he met someone online. They became a couple, but he never met her. Their relationship only flourished virtually.
"There were attempts to meet up," he said, adding that plane tickets had even been purchased in certain instances. "There were excuses of, 'Oh a family member is ill. Somebody was in the hospital.' And for me, I'm not going to be like 'Prove it.'"
In 2012, the footballer was in his senior year at Notre Dame when he reported the death of his girlfriend Lennay Kekua and grandmother just hours apart. Kekua was reportedly a 22-year-old Stanford University student who suffered a serious car accident before she was diagnosed with leukemia.
In 2013, reporters at Deadspin were unable to locate Kekua's death or car accident on the reported dates. They alleged that the person behind the photos was someone named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo from Seattle.
The athlete admitted that he was as surprised as the public when he learned about the story that his online girlfriend was not the person he knew.
"I didn't know what to believe," Te'o said. "You don't expect for somebody to say 'Hey, somebody's dead,' and three months later, 'Somebody's alive.' What do you do with that information?" the football star said. "Do you call somebody and say, "Hey, I just found out somebody's alive."
He was among the most decorated college football players at the time time, and he received intense backlash from critics, who accused him that he was part of the scheme. He admitted that there was "a lot of discovery" at the time.
Among the things he realized was how the public's opinion mattered to him. It wasn't an easy experience, and he was thankful for his family, who were there to support him. He also reminded the people that he really lost someone at the time — his grandmother.
"I want to bring more light to my grandmother because it almost is like this story overshadows her," Te'o said. "If there's anything I would like to do it's to give my grandmother that respect that has kind of been missed the last ten years because I did lose my grandmother."
Watch Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist on Netflix.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Pop Culture page.