Notre Dame Football Controversy
You’ve undoubtedly heard the fascinatingly confusing and complex story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s latest escapades in the dating world. Whether or not his reportedly dead girlfriend is in fact real remains to be seen, but while the media and greater public continue to speculate on the issue, the far less recognized story of Lizzy Seeberg, promising young student of St. Mary’s College, continues to spin itself out and remain eerily applicable for many others like her. Pushed into the shadows both by the looming figure of Te’o’s scandal as well as a greater social tendency to shy away from incidences like Seeberg’s, virtually no one knows the details on her alleged sexual assault, committed by other Notre Dame football stars, and her subsequent suicide (deadspin.com).
According to reports, in September of 2010 Seeberg was intimidated by fellow Notre Dame teammates of her assaulter after attempting to communicate the story of her attack to authorities, and took her own life following the taunting and threats she received. Although this occurred quite a bit earlier than Te’o’s story, the media attention that this was given does not even seem comparable to that of Te’o and his make-believe relationship, and things that or may not have even happened.
Says Irin Carmon on the reason for such a discrepancy in awareness of the two stories, “…Whereas there are legions of stories of sexual violence against women and men of star athletes and staff, who can reliably count on the impunity offered by fandom. Confronting [Te’o’s story] is a little embarrassing: The public equivalent of loving too much, the allure of a heartwarming story everyone wanted to believe. Confronting [Seeberg’s story] requires uglier, more difficult self-examination, and accepting collective responsibility costs more” (salon.com). The initial reaction of those who hear of Seeberg and how little her injustice is known tends to be one of disgust and immediate anger, which quickly subsides into an acknowledgement of the fact that these sorts of stories tend to be less publicized and get pushed under the rug: it is a painfully difficult thing to recognize these sorts of incidences. And so, of course, Te’o’s antics would be more popular–who doesn’t want to hear of the linebacker’s mysterious lover, the one who died tragically one day, commemorated and eulogized by the entire community, and the next was someone who never existed, or someone with whom this man was obsessed and infatuatedly constructed their fictionalized relationship.
Further disconcerting was the brief blip of a story concerning another woman who reportedly would not file an official accusation of rape against other Notre Dame football players after she was taken to the hospital for a rape exam, due to the fact that she had been receiving belligerent and threatening texts from various other players on the team (salon.com). According to reports, in response to questions concerning Seeberg’s story, the coach of the Fighting Irish (Notre Dame’s team) made a joke about the situation. Meanwhile, the athletic director had tears streaming down his face during the 40-minute press conference dedicated to Te’o’s then-deceased girlfriend (feministing.com).
It’s not difficult to understand why such stories would be treated so differently, but it is deeply upsetting nonetheless. The fact of the matter is that tales like Seeberg’s are much more likely to be covered up and dismissed in the panic of the situation; media attention is the last thing the organization involved would want. While Te’o and his acquaintances undoubtedly don’t desire his publicity in light of recent events to affect him in a negative way, pleading instead that he was the victim of an elaborate hoax, Seeberg and many others who share her experience (both past, present, and future) are kept much more efficiently away from public examination.