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Te'o provides answers, but more may be asked

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Te'o provides answers, but more may be asked

NEW YORK (AP) Manti Te'o tried to put one of the strangest sports stories in memory behind him, insisting he was the target of an elaborate online hoax in which he fell for a fake woman created by pranksters, then admitting his own lies made the bizarre ordeal worse.

Whether his off-camera interview with ESPN was enough to demonstrate that the Notre Dame star linebacker was a victim in the scheme instead of a participant is still an open question.

The most important judges of the All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist may be pro football teams. Te'o has finished his coursework at Notre Dame and is preparing for the NFL draft at an elite training facility in Florida, where the 2 1/2-hour interview was conducted late Friday night.

ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap said that the 21-year-old Te'o answered all his questions in a calm voice, and tried to clear up the mysteries and inconsistencies of the case.

Among the highlights:

- Te'o denied being in on the hoax. ``No. Never,'' he said. ``I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this.''

- Te'o provided a timeline and details of his relationship with Lennay Kekua, his virtual sweetheart, who went through an array of medical calamities before ``dying'' of Leukemia in September, just hours after Te'o got real news of his grandmother's death.

- He acknowledged that he lied to his father about meeting Kekua in person, then exacerbated the situation after her supposed death when he ``tailored'' his comments to reporters to make it sound as if their relationship was more than just phone calls and electronic messages.

``I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet, and that alone - people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn't meet her, as well,'' Te'o said. ``So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn't think that I was some crazy dude.''

In the same part of the conversation, Te'o said: ``Out of this whole thing, that is my biggest regret. And that is the biggest, I think, that's from my point of view, that is a mistake I made.''

- He detailed the confusing phone conversation he had on Dec. 6, when the woman who was posing as Kekua contacted him and told him one last hard-to-believe story about how she had to fake her own death to evade drug dealers. Te'o said it left him piecing together what exactly was going on over the next few days, when he was bouncing from interview to interview while taking part in the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York on Dec. 8 and another awards dinner in Los Angeles the next night. He mentioned his girlfriend in interviews at least three times over that period.

- Even after he went to his parents, coaches and Notre Dame officials with the story by Dec. 26, and the school provided an investigation that it says corroborated Te'o's version by Jan. 4, the player told ESPN that it was not until Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him Wednesday and confessed to the prank, that he finally believed Kekua was not real. Schaap said that Te'o showed him direct messages from Twitter in which Tuiasosopo admitted to masterminding the hoax and apologized.

Schaap remarked to Te'o earlier in the interview that he still talked about Lennay as if she existed.

``Well, in my mind I still don't have answers,'' Te'o replied. ``I'm still wondering what's going on, what happened.''

Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since Deadspin.com broke the news of the hoax on Wednesday and identified him as being heavily involved.

At the Tuiasosopo house in Palmdale, Calif., the family did not answer the door Saturday. The AP learned Saturday through public records and interviews a house on the street as the Tuiasosopo's that Te'o had flowers delivered to after Kekua ``died'' was once lived in by Ronaiah. The residents now? A family named Kekua, though they've never heard of a Lennay Kekua.

Whether Tuiasosopo ultimately confirms Te'o's version of the story will go a long way toward determining where this saga is headed.

In the interview with ESPN, Te'o implied that he was not holding a grudge against Tuiasosopo.

``I hope he learns,'' Te'o said. ``I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough.''

Te'o was the emotional leader and best player on a Notre Dame team that went from unranked to playing for the program's first national championship since 1988. And Te'o's tale of inspired play while dealing with a double-dose of tragedy became the theme of the Irish's unexpected rise and undefeated regular season.

Not until Te'o and the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS championship did the good times end. The Crimson Tide won in a 42-14 rout on Jan. 7, the hoax was then exposed and suddenly the dream season was tarnished.

So far no law enforcement agencies have indicated they are pursuing a criminal case in the scam, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a news conference earlier this week said the university was going to leave it up to Te'o and his family to pursue legal action.

Bennett Kelly, founder of the Internet Law Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said a criminal case of fraud against the perpetrators probably wouldn't work because it appears they took nothing of value (money or other items) from Te'o. The player said at one point the fake girlfriend asked for his checking account number but he declined.

A civil suit would be difficult as well, Kelley said.

``It's not as easy as it's often portrayed,'' Kelley said. ``The context has to be outrageous. There usually has to be some kind of physical manifestation. It can't just be that it was a bummer.''

Swarbrick said from the start that it didn't seem as if laws were broken or NCAA rules violated. He had publicly encouraged Te'o to give his side of the story.

``Manti put this to rest for me and the University long ago,'' Swarbrick said in a text message to the AP on Saturday. ``I am just glad that everyone (at least everyone open to the facts) now knows what we have long known - that a great young man was the innocent victim of a very cruel hoax.''

While fans and the members of the media might not be satisfied with where Te'o has left it, he won't necessarily be compelled to answer to them - just to potential employers starting in February.

At the NFL combine, Te'o will have his physical skills and fitness tested, and he will be interviewed by NFL executives and coaches. He has been projected as a potential first-round draft pick. If his involvement in this hoax sets off red flags for teams and it causes him to slip in April's draft, it could cost him millions of dollars.

Said former Dallas Cowboys general manager and NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt: ``Between now and 97 days from now when the draft comes, there'll be a lot of people investigating just what took place.''

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Associated Press Writers Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles and Justin Pritchard in Carson, Calif. contributed.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Derrius Guice's latest injury left the Redskins both dejected and concerned

Derrius Guice's latest injury left the Redskins both dejected and concerned

Redskins running back Derrius Guice has shown plenty of promise when he's been on the field.

But staying on the field has been the hardest part for the second-year veteran. In his first NFL preseason game, Guice tore his left ACL against the Patriots, forcing him to miss the entire 2018 season. In Week 1 of 2019, Guice tore the meniscus in his right knee. He landed on injured reserve and missed the next eight games.

In Sunday's 20-15 loss to Green Bay, Guice was forced to leave the game in the second quarter with another knee injury, one in his ACL repaired left knee. After breaking off a 23-yard run down the right sideline, Guice was upended on a direct helmet-to-knee collision.

The result of the hit is unclear, as Guice will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury.

Interim head coach Bill Callahan, as well as multiple Redskins players, were asked in the locker room about Guice's injury. They were both dejected and concerned for the young running back.

"Just his reaction to it, it was kind of frightening. I know what he's been through," running back Adrian Peterson said. "That's the last thing that he needs is another serious injury. I told him, 'Take the positives. I know you wanted to be out there and finish the game, but it could have been worse than what it was.'"

Guice finished the game with 42 yards on just five carries.

"That's my guy. That's like my little brother," Chris Thompson said. "To see this continually happen to him, it sucks. Every time he's getting, showing what he's able to do, something happens."

Entering Sunday, Guice was coming off the heels of his best game as a professional. In Week 13, the LSU product finished with a career-high 129 yards on just 10 carries to go along with two touchdowns.

While the team has yet to announce the severity of the injury, sports medical analyst and longtime Chargers' physician Dr. David Chao believes that Guice suffered a mild MCL sprain, which would be a positive sign for Guice, if true.

Callahan seemed to be a little more concerned.

"Right now, I'm just worried about where he is currently," the interim head coach said. "Overall, it's unfortunate that he's been banged up and nicked up. I'm just curious to see how he comes out of this game with whatever injury he sustained."

Callahan's concern is certainly warranted. After all, Guice told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay "all is well" following the Patriots game in 2018, the same game he tore his ACL in. After Week 1, then-head coach Jay Gruden did not report an injury to Guice in his postgame press conference. Later in the week, the team announced he was being placed on injured reserve.

So, if Guice's injuries in the past are any indication, nothing is for sure until the MRI results come back.

"It sucks that it keeps happening to his knees," Thompson said. "That's how he makes his money. Just to see that, it's rough, but I know he's going to do everything, work his butt off to get back."

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ESPN releases Sunday Night Baseball schedule, Nationals make zero appearances

ESPN releases Sunday Night Baseball schedule, Nationals make zero appearances

ESPN released its Sunday Night Baseball schedule for the 2020 season and the World Series Champion Nationals are not on it. 

The Mets are scheduled to play three times on baseball's prime time television slot, while the Dodgers are set to appear three times as well. The Braves are the only other NL East team scheduled to play. 

Here's a look at the schedule so far. 

As you can probably tell, there's plenty of Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers in there.

There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Nationals' roster due to Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon's free agencies, but come on. The Mets?

On the chance the Nationals lose both Strasburg and Rendon in free agency, they still have a great chance at being competitive and intriguing all year. 

Sunday Night Baseball is supposed to be the biggest game of the week and to not have the defending champions once feels wrong regardless of your allegiances.

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