A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: O’Meara

Can Manti Te’o’s ‘Girlfriend’ Sue?

By Meghan Lalonde

Diane O’Meara, who was never a college football fan, now sees her name in headlines next to one of the biggest names in the game: Manti Te’o, the Heisman runner-up and all-star linebacker from the University of Notre Dame.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock recently, you probably know the story: her Facebook pictures were used to create the persona of “Lennay Kekua”, a woman Mr. Te’o described as his girlfriend. He was devastated when she was in a life threatening car accident, and crushed when she was diagnosed with, and later died from, leukemia.

At first the surreal story of a player’s strength and perseverance in the face of tragedy captivated national audiences, but it soon became something much different: one of the biggest hoaxes in the history of sports. Turns out that Lennay Kekua never died. In fact, she never existed. “She” was really a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former high school classmate of Ms. O’Meara’s.

Following a damning report by Deadspin, many wondered whether Mr. Te’o had been involved in the hoax to win sympathy votes for the Heisman trophy. But like Ms. O’Meara, Mr. Te’o maintains he was unaware of the hoax.

Mr. Tuiasosopo claims he didn’t create the fictional character to hurt anyone and that the relationship with Mr. Te’o was genuine. He denies he is gay but is clearly a troubled young man. We hope he can find a way to come to terms with what he did and who he is, and is able to forge a better future for himself.

So it’s not that we wish him any harm, but still…

Mr. Te’o thought he was whispering sweet nothings to an attractive young woman on the other end of the phone. Not to mention that he lives in the macho world of football, and is about to enter the NFL draft. There’s no question that Mr. Te’o was harmed, emotionally and perhaps even financially, by the scandal.

But what about Ms. O’Meara, whose likeness was used as the face for Mr. Tuiasosopo’s faux love affair? She’s hired a lawyer but so far, hasn’t sued. Can she?

LASIS lays out the odds for Ms. O’Meara in the great American indoor sport: the civil lawsuit. (more…)

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