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Associated Press

Irish AD encourages Te'o to talk

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick defended Manti Te'o as the victim of an elaborate hoax in which the All-American linebacker was led to believe he had a relationship with a woman that never existed.

On Friday, Swarbrick encouraged Te'o to publicly address the situation on a podcast posted on the university's website.

"I don't have any specific knowledge as to how and when, but I can't fathom a circumstance where it doesn't (happen)," Swarbrick said. "I sort of share everybody's view that it has to happen. We are certainly encouraging it to happen. We think it's important and we'd like to see it happen sooner rather than later."

A story published on Wednesday revealed that Lennay Kekua, who Te'o spoke of on numerous occasions as his girlfriend who died after battling leukemia in September, never existed. Swarbrick said at a news conference Wednesday night to address the story that Notre Dame had investigated the situation and found Te'o to be the victim of a hoax.

Te'o had only addressed the situation in a news release Wednesday, stating that he was "the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies."

On the podcast of Swarbrick's radio show that airs Saturday but was posted on Notre Dame's website Friday, the athletic director said the Te'o family was going to address the situation Monday. But that plan didn't happen when the Deadspin story was published five days before Te'o was going to go public.

"Sometimes the best laid plans don't quite work, and this was an example of that. Because the family lost the opportunity in some ways to control the story," Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick said the university didn't have anything more to add to the story.

"It is in the Te'o family's court," he said. "We are very much encouraging them. I hope by the time people are listening to this they have made themselves available to explain and to take questions, because we think that's in everybody's interest. It's certainly our expectation at Notre Dame that they would do that.

"We were willing to go forward and do that and answer questions from our end and offer our support. We have every expectation he'll do the same."

An ESPN report emerged Friday strengthening the claim that Te'o was duped. Shelly Smith wrote that a church friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the California man being identified as the mastermind of the fraud, said Tuiasosopo admitted to being behind the scheme in December. The woman asked ESPN not to identify her because of the publicity Te'o's story has generated.

"He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim and the girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie," the woman told ESPN. "He was crying, he was literally crying, he's like 'I know, I know what I have to do.'

"It's not only Manti, but he was telling me that it's a lot of other people they had done this to."

ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program also spoke with J.R. Vaosa, 28, of Torrance, Calif., and Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, Calif., who said in 2008 their cousin had the same hoax pulled on him by Tuiasosopo. The cousins told ESPN Tuiasosopo used the same name, Lennay Kekua, for a woman claiming to be a model and carry on an online relationship with their relative.

Even though Te'o's and the university's assertion that the former Irish star was a victim in this strange story, Swarbrick said he understands why people remain skeptical of the situation as Te'o remains silent while training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

"They have every right to say that," Swarbrick said "Now I have some more information than they have. But they have every right to say that. I don't feel any sort of ill will toward that position. If I was on the outside of this presented with the only facts I have at this point – and importantly at the time we're recording this Manti has yet to speak publicly – I think that skepticism is easy to understand. I just ask those people to apply the same skepticism to everything about this.

"I have no doubt the perpetrators have a story they will yet spin about what went on here. I hope skepticism also greets that when they're articulating what that is."