What Football Player Manti Te'o Is Doing Today

It must be a terrible thing to go down in history mostly for being the butt of someone's joke, especially when it overshadows your other, legitimate accomplishments. But that's exactly what happened to Manti Te'o (pictured above), who was the first purely defensive college football player to come without shouting distance of winning a Heisman Trophy. As ESPN reports, he was a few hundred points shy of the majority of Heisman votes in 2012, and the award eventually went to Johnny Manziel (an offensive player).

But his close call with football history has been overshadowed by a cruel prank of which he was the victim. According to Deadspin, even as he was closing in on potential college football history, the narrative surrounding Te'O had more to do with his personal life. That's because the player was victimized by a "catfishing" prank, which is to say, someone pretended to be his long-distance girlfriend and kept up the act even until her (fictional) death.

That was ten years ago, and you may be surprised that Te'O has had a lengthy, though largely lackluster, career in the NFL, and even has a "real" partner.

The Most Famous Catfishing In History

To "catfish" someone, according to Urban Dictionary, is to create a fake social media profile for the purpose of deceiving them. And in 2012, Manti Te'o became the poster boy for being catfished.

In the fall of 2012, according to Deadspin, Te'O announced that, within a few hours of each other, his grandmother and his girlfriend had died. The next day, Manti tore it up on the field, an inspirational story of giving it your all in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Te'O's grandmother had died, that much is true. But the girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was an enigma. Their relationship consisted entirely of phone calls and digital communication. Supposedly she had been in a car accident before being diagnosed with leukemia. However, parts of the story didn't seem to add up, and Deadspin reporters did some digging. 

To make a very long story short, Lennay Kekua wasn't real. Her backstory was made up, she was never enrolled at Stanford, where Te'O' claimed to have met her. The entire thing was a hoax being carried out by a person named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. A follow-up ESPN report would reveal that Tuiasosopo was in love with Te'O' and had made up the character of Lennay Kekua in order to carry on a relationship, however fictitious, with the football player, and then carried it through to its fictitious conclusion by killing her off.

Manti Te'O's Lackluster NFL Career

Winning, or being nominated for, a Heisman Trophy (the highest award given to a college football player) doesn't necessarily translate to a stellar career in the National Football League. Just ask Johnny Manziel, the guy who beat Manti Te'O for the award: He lasted only two seasons in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference.

Manti Te'O has done slightly better. His Pro Football Reference page reveals that he played eight seasons in the league, with stints with the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, and San Diego Chargers. Further, none of his stats reveal a particularly stellar NFL career. He concluded the 2020 season as a Bear without having appeared in any games.

As of August 2022, according to Parade, Te'O' is officially a free agent in the NFL, which in this case is a euphemism for "doesn't have an NFL contract." Whether he'll ever play professional football again remains to be seen. He does, however, have a wife, and she's real. In 2020, he married fitness personality Jovi Nicole. The couple have a daughter, Hiro, born in 2021.