Jan. 30, 2013 at 8:45 AM ET
After his lengthy interview with the mastermind of the fake girlfriend hoax against Manti Te’o, Dr. Phil McGraw believes Ronaiah Tuiasosopo genuinely fell in love with the Notre Dame star linebacker during the course of the two-year deception.
“Here we have a young man that fell deeply, romantically in love,’’ McGraw told NBC’s Mike Taibbi in a segment that aired on TODAY Wednesday. “I asked him straight up, ‘Was this a romantic relationship with you?’ And he says yes. I said, ‘Are you then therefore gay?’ And he said, ‘When you put it that way, yes.’ And then he caught himself and said, ‘I am confused.’’’
In a two-part interview that will air Thursday and Friday on the “Dr. Phil’’ show, Tuiasosopo describes Te’o as an innocent victim in the hoax. The 22-year-old California man posed as Lennay Kekua, an imaginary person whose supposed death from leukemia on Sept. 12 made national headlines as part of an inspiring narrative surrounding Te’o during Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season.
Te’o told Katie Couric that he was made aware of the hoax in a phone call on Dec. 6, but, out of embarrassment, continued to pretend in public that she was real through the Jan. 7 BCS championship game, in which Notre Dame fell to Alabama.
Tuiasosopo claims he wanted to end the charade earlier, but could not go through with it. The hoax has made national headlines since being exposed by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16.
“I wanted to end it because after everything I had gone through, I finally realized that I just had to move on with my life,’’ Tuiasosopo told McGraw during their interview. “I had to start just living and let this go. There were many times where Manti and Lennay had broken up, but something would bring them back together whether it was something going on in his life or in Lennay’s life, or in this case, my life.’’
Tuiasosopo created a fake social media profile using photos taken from the Facebook page of former high school classmate Diane O’Meara, 23, a marketing executive in Los Angeles. He also insisted to McGraw that the telephone voice of the imaginary Kekua in voicemails and conversations with Te’o was his.
McGraw told Taibbi that, after speaking with Tuiasosopo, he believes that Te’o “absolutely, unequivocally’’ was not involved in the hoax in any way .
“Ronaiah had a number of life experiences that damaged this young man in some very serious ways,’’ McGraw said.