I think the past couple of weeks have taught us the importance of character and integrity. Or put more bluntly and colloquially – cheaters never prosper. As I’m writing this on Thursday afternoon, Manti Te’o hasn’t spoken yet. So I’m going on what Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said Wednesday night and what has been reported. But I can tell you, no matter what Te’o says, it’s probably not going to pass my smell test. Seriously, you “date” a girl for three years – she dies, gasp! – a whole nation mourns, you get the game ball, you talk about her all the time in glowing, “love-of-my-life” terms, and you never once bother to let on that, well, you never really met her? Victim or not, Te’o was not being forthright with his legions of adoring fans – or his teammates and coaches – who as early as the beginning of December were starting to think the whole thing was a little fishy. The latest Internet “news” – I use the term “news” loosely with regard to Internet reporting – says it was a longtime family friend who duped Te’o. More on that by the time you read this, I’m sure, if there’s any truth to it. But regardless of who pulled the dirty deed, I can’t believe Te’o didn’t know better long before the rest of us found out about it. His team and coaches found out about it on Dec. 26, a couple of weeks before their National Championship game against Alabama. One must wonder whether Te’o, the All-American linebacker, and the rest of the team were distracted by the impending national furor. After all, as a linebacker, Te’o is the quarterback of the defense. The whole team looked up to him, respected him and would go to the mat for him. They were all in the locker room sharing tears as head coach Brian Kelly gave Te’o that game ball after the Michigan State game, right after his grandmother and his imaginary girlfriend died. So imagine the team’s disappointment when they found out that their defensive leader’s love life was a big joke. And that sooner or later it was going to get out to the masses and cast a pall over the whole team. While I am not a huge fan of Kelly – I think he’s a bit full of himself – I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Can you imagine? His whole coaching life he’s worked toward the goal of bringing a college football team to the national championship game. He does it three years after coming to Notre Dame from Cincinnati. And two weeks before the biggest game of his career he has to deal not only with Xs and Os. He’s got to deal with his entire team being distracted by his top player’s imitation Internet girlfriend. I bet he snapped a couple clipboards in half in his office. I do feel a bit of empathy for Te’o as well. I think it’s one of those things where it started out as somebody playing a cruel joke. It probably wasn’t meant to drag on as long as it did, but when it did, it just got out of control. But as I said earlier, I can’t image Te’o wasn’t at least suspicious of his cyber sweetheart long before last December. And he kept it to himself. If not for deadspin.com, we probably still wouldn’t know about it. I can see why he kept it to himself. He was probably trying to avoid the inevitable backlash. And he didn’t want to hurt his chances for the Heisman or the NLF draft. Of course, in a way only Americans can, people were immediately pouncing on the situation. I saw T-shirts online that said – in the same font and colors of that famed “Play Like A Champion Today” sign – “Play Like Your Fake Girlfriend Died Today.” Somebody said, “Now we know who was sitting in that chair with Clint Eastwood.” A car salesman posted a picture of himself seated at the desk in his office titled, “Closing the deal on a new car with Manti Te’o’s girlfriend.” He was sitting across from an empty chair. But I guess that’s the price you pay when you’re maybe a touch dishonest. Or a lot dishonest, like Lance Armstrong. Here’s a guy who had me – skeptical as I am about everything – buffalloed. I remember saying to people, “How in the world could Armstrong have been doping? He was the single most tested athlete of all time.” No way the guy could have avoided getting caught.” Well, duh. I never considered that the sanctioning body that did the testing was being paid off by Armstrong’s people. Plus, I follow cycling a little bit and like to ride a road bike, so I suppose I was allowed myself to be a little jaded and give him the benefit of the doubt. Well, I was wrong. He was a big cheater. Maybe the biggest cheater of all time. And there are already little yellow rubber bracelets out there that say “LIESTRONG.” And how about that Baseball Hall of Fame induction the other day when not one player was inducted? Steroid users Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens didn’t get the nod and probably never will. But there is a difference between those guys and Armstrong. Those other guys, while cheaters, made out like bandits. Armstrong will likely wind up broke. Everybody’s making him pay back his winnings. Endorsers are threatening to sue him. The Olympics wants to take back his medal. Armstrong was the only seven-time Tour de France winner, and he was stripped of all seven titles. His name actually was removed from the record books. Meanwhile, Roger the Rocket Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young award winner in major league history, gets to keep his awards – and his money. Heck, Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids. He’s still playing ball and making millions. Bary Bonds admitted to using steroids. He’s a seven-time MVP. So it seems we do tend to treat our cheaters a little differently, but there apparently is a bottom line in all this. Even as society seems to become more and more tractable with regard to of all manner of deviant behavior, we still really don’t have a lot of tolerance for cheaters.