Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o season was probably the most inspirational sporting story of 2012.

He led his team to glory mere hours after the tragic deaths of his beloved Grandmother and girlfriend who died on the same day.

He's a possible first-round draft pick for the NFL.

His story was featured in major sports magazines like Sports Illustrated and on television, with heart-breaking details of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, and her death from leukemia.

Pete Thamel in Sports Illustrated reported Te'o would phone Kekua in the hospital and leave the phone connected all night as he slept.

Tears were shed and people around the world sympathised.

Except it turns out Lennay Kekua doesn't exist and the media, people who donated to a charity foundation in Kekua's name, people who shared his grief and - possibly - even Manti Te'o were taken in.

The pictures of Kekua on Twitter were stolen from another woman's Facebook account.

Her car accident and subsequent leukemia diagnosis were false.

Yet Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the New York Times, the New York Post and others printed intimate details of the couple's relationship.

And then the real heartbreaker, according the South Bend Tribune:

Less than 48 hours later [after Lennay's release from the hospital], at 4 a.m. Hawaii time, Kekua sent a text to Brian and Ottilia [Te'o's mum and dad], expressing her condolences over the passing of Ottilia's mom, Annette Santiago, just hours before.

Brian awakened three hours later, saw the text, and sent one back. There was no response. A couple of hours later, Manti called his parents, his heart in pieces.

Lennay Kekua had died.

An investigation by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey at Deadspin has the complete details of the story and you should read it all.

It turns out the most likely person responsible for this grand hoax was a friend of Te'o's named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and - if we are to believe the Te'o family - without Manti's knowledge.

Notre Dame released the following statement today fom Assistant Vice President Dennis Brown:

On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.

However it's hard to belive Manti Te'o didn't know Lenny Kekua wasn't real.

They were in a 'relationship' for a year. They tweeted their love of each other. He met up with her on occasion in Hawai'i. Brian Te'o spoke with her on the phone. Kekua's brother, who doesn't exist, told Manti of her death.

He skipped the funeral because Kekua had insisted he not miss a game.

According to the Deadspin article:

A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told us he was "80 percent sure" that Manti Te'o was "in on it," and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua's death with publicity in mind. According to the friend, there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te'o together on Tuiasosopo's now-deleted Instagram account.

The sheer quantity of falsehoods about Manti's relationship with Lennay makes that friend, and another relative of Ronaiah's, believe Te'o had to know the truth. Mostly, though, the friend simply couldn't believe that Te'o would be stupid enough — or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo clever enough — to sustain the relationship for nearly a year.

It's a tragedy, right enough. Just not in the way we initially thought.

More Sport News