(CNN) -- After word broke of a hoax about the death of star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s “girlfriend,” it didn’t take long for “Te’o” to become the top-trending term on Twitter on Wednesday night.
After the website Deadspin published the allegations, most online comments seemed to be doubting Te’o’s innocence in the matter, and more than a few were jokes at his expense.
The Deadspin article implied Te’o was involved in making up a season-long story about his long-distance relationship with a Stanford University student who died of leukemia just before underdog Notre Dame played Michigan State early in the season. However, both Te’o and the university say he was a victim.
Jack Swarbrick, director of athletics at Notre Dame, told reporters that Te’o was the victim of an elaborate hoax. “And he will carry that with him for a while,” Swarbrick said.
In a separate statement, reported by ESPN, Te’o said: “To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”
ESPN analyst Jemele Hill tweeted, “Sorry, my spidey senses aren’t completely buying Manti Te’o’s side of the story.”
Hill questioned the details of the player’s and the university’s denials.
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“So Te’o never Skype’d, no Face Time, Gmail chat, nothing? Boy, this feels like an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.”
Hill’s colleague Mike Greenberg, on the other hand, seemed to be leaning Te’o’s way after listening to Swarbrick’s statement:
“Just watched Swarbrick. Fully supported Te’o, which is telling. They have a lot to lose if wrong, no doubt they’ve been careful. #MantiTeo
Ball State University student Josh Cook was in Te’o’s corner: “I believe in Te’o & his character. I believe he was played & tricked.”
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Twitter user Adam Knorr posted: “Manti Te’o just pulled the 3rd grade, ‘I have a girlfriend. She goes to another school,’ prank on the entire United States.”
Bleacher Report reader Bill Rinaldi was willing to give Te’o the benefit of the doubt: “There is no proof he was in on it. People get tricked ALL the time in online relationships, just watch Catfish on MTV, or even the movie itself.”
(“Catfish” is a reality show that chronicles the pitfalls of online dating.)
Another Bleacher report reader, Pierre Conrad, was not so credulous: “He said he met her at Stanford. Wouldn’t he have said the photos on TV and the internet were not of her? Stop attempting to defend the indefensible.”
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Parker Wentzel, also on Bleacher Report, was circumspect: “I hope this was just a hoax played on Manti. If he was in on this, then I lose a lot of respect for him (because) the whole story fueled this season for Notre Dame and his Heisman run. Either way it’s a shame.”
Many Internet denizens took the opportunity to bash Te’o’s performance on the field. A few examples:
“I think Manti Te’o himself is a hoax. They tell me he played in the BCS Championship and yet I didn’t see him at all.”—tc4012, CNN.com reader
“Roll Tide. He looked like a deer in the headlights when the Crimson Tide pushed him all over the field like a puppet. He was shellshocked. Well, maybe they can open up an investigation by the DOJ into it and he can come on Oprah with a tell all....”—trski, CNN.com reader
“Y’all Te’o wasn’t missing tackles against Bama, he was hugging his girlfriend”—Josh Jones on Twitter
“Now I know why Manti Te’o always bit on the play action fake”—Gary Cinello on Twitter
Numerous commenters pretended to be Lance Armstrong and thanked Te’o for distracting the media from the cycling champion’s doping scandal.
A Tumblr showed pictures of men posing with invisible girlfriends, instantly coining the term “Te’oing.” One photo showed an empty chair on a beach, with the words, “Look how hot Teo’s girlfriend is!”
“Saturday Night Live” comedian Seth Myers admonished online comics: “These Te’o jokes are all very funny but let’s all try and remember that a person who never existed is dead.”