Many have heard the inspirational tale of Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy lost both his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day this past season and then overcame the heartbreak to play some of his best football. It was a story repeatedly harped on by the media this season as Notre Dame marched their way to the Championship game. Except, it turns out only half of that is true. Here is the Benchmark 5: things we can learn from Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend.

  1. The Internet can be a scary place. Te’o claims that he was the victim of an online relationship gone awry. Is there really any other way for them to go? In many ways, the Internet is still the Wild West. There’s a reason Benchmark makes sure our users are CAN-SPAM compliant and why things like SOPA were attempted. It’s hard to protect yourself online, but there are ways to do it (though I’m glad SOPA wasn’t one of them).
  2. It’s important to fact check. How did not one single member of the media question the whole story? Not one person confirmed her existence, her death…anything. Yet, the story was widely reported by everyone. Standards need to be reviewed at ESPN, Sports Illustrated and everywhere else that failed us and themselves with this story. Kudos to Deadspin for finally getting it right.
  3. The power of a sob story. Te’o was celebrated for overcoming tragedy to play a great game in honor of his grandmother and girlfriend that had passed. In many ways, it’s where the momentum began for his Heisman campaign. Some are accusing Te’o of being complicit in the hoax, in order to benefit his chances at winning college football’s biggest award.
  4. Come clean immediately when things go wrong. It has been reported and confirmed by Notre Dame that they were alerted to this hoax on December 26, 2012. The university didn’t address the matter publicly until the story broke on Deadspin more than two weeks later on January 16, 2013. Some have questioned why Notre Dame didn’t get out ahead of it, rather than being forced to react once someone else released the story.
  5. Fraud in the name of charity is a thing. It’s been a hot topic in the news with Lance Armstrong coming clean about PEDs and the money raised by Livestrong, as well as the money that was donated in the name of Te’o’s fake girlfriend. There is no doubt that good came from the money that went to cancer research and support in regards to both stories. Do the ends justify the means? There’s a lot of ways to look at it, and you can’t really be faulted for your opinion either way here. However, maybe do your research on a charity before opening your wallet. Or at least learn about what your money will go towards.