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After sitting out the past two seasons, Manti Te’o has confirmed his NFL career is over.
The 32-year-old explained his decision while speaking to TMZ Sports: “I’m playing a different game now. I’m trying to empower people. Trying to inspire people. That’s the game that I’m playing now, and I’m trying to be the best at that.”
Te’o was the subject of the Netflix documentary series Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist released in August 2022. The film is about the catfishing incident when he was dating a girl he’d never met who was said to have died in a car crash on the same day his grandmother died in September 2012.
Deadspin’s Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey reported in January 2013 that Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, didn’t exist and he helped perpetuate the story talking about her as if she were real throughout his senior season at Notre Dame.
“All she wanted was some white roses,” Te’o said after Notre Dame’s 13-6 win over Michigan State on Sept. 15 (h/t Burke and Dickey). “So I sent her roses and sent her two picks along with that.”
Te’o issued a statement about the situation in the wake of the Deadspin report:
“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
“It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.
“Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.”
The 2012 season saw Te’o lead the Fighting Irish to a 12-1 record and an appearance in the BCS Championship Game. He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting to Johnny Manziel.
(Notre Dame’s records from the 2012 and 2013 seasons were later vacated as part of NCAA sanctions due to academic misconduct.)
Te’o was a second-round draft pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2013. He played a total of eight seasons in the NFL with three different teams. His most recent appearance was with the Chicago Bears in the NFC Wild Card playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 10, 2021.
In 62 career games, Te’o recorded 307 combined tackles and 22 tackles for loss.