It has been nearly a decade since former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was ridiculed for the gullibility he displayed in one of the most outlandish catfishing hoaxes in recent memory. The 31-year-old may have since moved on, even getting married in 2020 and playing in the NFL through last year. But Te’o is deciding to finally open up about the scandal — and it was words from Jay-Z that gave him the strength to do it.
On Tuesday, Te’o appeared on CBS Mornings to promote the two-part documentary Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist, the sixth installment of Netflix’s UNTOLD series. And that’s when he shared what exactly Hov said that motivated him.
From 2017 through 2019, Te’o was a member of the New Orleans Saints. Team defensive end Cameron Jordan brought him and other teammates to watch Jigga perform. He told the CBS Mornings crew, “Cam Jordan with the Saints took a bunch of us teammates to a Jay-Z concert,” Te’o said. “And at that concert, Jay-Z opens up with saying these words: ‘You cannot heal what you don’t reveal.’ And it may have been just some random words to everybody, but for me, at that time, it hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the perpetrator of the hoax, is now a transgender woman who goes by the name “Naya.” She and Te’o were both displeased with how their stories have been told since then.
But each party agreed to be interviewed separately for the documentary. The film’s executive producers brothers, Chapman Way and Maclain Way, spoke with the New York Post about how they brought the story to life so many years after it all happened.
“When we started filming, they hadn’t been in contact since the scandal broke. They hadn’t talked, they hadn’t seen each other,” Chapman said. “And so it was a really interesting way of making this. They haven’t been in contact. They haven’t been in communication.”
“But I think kind of what made these interviews so powerful is they were drawing on memories from 10 years ago,” he continued. Memories that have stayed with them. Very powerful memories. Very powerful emotions. I think both of them are still working through kind of what this whole scandal was and how it affected them individually.”
Production for The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist began during the height of the pandemic. Te’o filmed his parts from Chicago, where he was playing on the Chicago Bears practice squad. Meanwhile, Tuiasosopo gave her side of the story from Seattle.
In the trailer for the documentary, Te’o, says his “whole world changed” in the aftermath of the hoax. But Tuiasosopo alluded to finally feeling seen because of it.
“As horrible as it felt to do that, it was kind of a relief knowing that I was able to validate, still, a girl that wasn’t even real,” she said in the documentary.
Check the trailer below for Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.