Please forgive me for straying from the Nittany Lions for a few minutes. One of the advantages to having a relatively widely read college sports blog, and running it, is the opportunity to use that wide reach to get your opinion out. Typically those would involve our stated focus, Penn State football. But every now and then, there are stories that transcend things, or just get me riled up enough to dedicate a post to them. This whole Manti Te’o thing is one of those.
Before I go any further, let me just say this. I don’t really care whether Te’o was a part of this lie, or whether he was truly an innocent “victim”. If this was all part of some grand PR stunt, I don’t care. If this was all one big hoax on the sporting public, oh well. All that would mean is a college football player got our attention, sold some extra jerseys, and got his mug on SI. Would it piss me off if that were the case? Yeah, probably a little, but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t change much.
No, what really has me upset is the public reaction to this. I happened to be in the car when the news broke, and only became aware of the basics of it when I stopped to fill up the gas tank and took a quick look at Twitter. By the time I got home, Notre Dame, and Te’o himself had issued a press release, and Irish AD Jack Swarbrick had scheduled a press conference that would be carried live on national TV. Quite the response for a player that was, according to the school, the “victim” of an Internet hoax.
There’s that word again, “victim”. By the basic definition of the word, yes, Manti Te’o would be a victim if the school’s version of the events is accurate. But given the recent history of the Irish football program and actual tragedies, “victim” seems a bit overly dramatic for this case. Manti did not lose a dime. He was not injured. He was just publicly embarrassed by something that happens to, I imagine, quite a few people, albeit on a less dramatic scale. No, the real victims at Notre Dame are two people whose names you have probably not heard much of. Lizzy Seeberg, and Declan Sullivan.
Lizzy Seeberg was a 19 year old student at St. Mary’s College, a small women’s school across the street from The University of Notre Dame in South Bend. She was the victim of an alleged sexual assault in 2010 by a member of the Fighting Irish football team, an allegation that was barely investigated, before Lizzy committed suicide just 10 days later. You can read more about the story here, but the basic facts are Lizzy was threatened to “not mess with Notre Dame football”, and the Notre Dame police, who have jurisdiction for investigations on campus, did not even interview the alleged player (whose name has never been made public) until 5 days after her death. With Lizzy no longer able to testify, other than the written statement she provided the police, charges were never brought. Case closed, Go Irish.
Declan Sullivan was the student videographer who was killed when the scissor lift he was using to record the Irish’s practice was blown over in severe winds. Yes, the University investigated, found faults, and worked to correct them. The University also reached a settlement with Declan’s family. Yet, there have been lingering questions about just what Head Coach Brian Kelly did, or did not do, that resulted in a 19 year old student dying on his practice field.
Lizzy and Declan are the real tragedies, the real victims at Notre Dame. Instead, Mr. Swarbrick stood in front of the media for over 40 minutes, and told us how bad he felt for Manti Te’o. He broke down in tears at one point. All over an All American linebacker who it would seem, at worst, was fooled. As the odd ESPN graphic said, “Manti Te’o's girlfriend was not real”. OK then. Forgive me for not feeling too bad. Where was the private investigation into Lizzy’s allegations? Where was a sobbing athletic director talking about how awful it was that a 19 year old felt compelled to take her life, and Notre Dame was not able to do right by her? Where was the national media that is currently busy tweeting, writing, and commenting about a fake girlfriends, and a death that never happened, when Declan and Lizzy needed them, and in many ways, still do.
Lizzy Seeberg. Declan Sullivan. Two names, two people, two real people, who were lost in real tragedies that were directly associated with Notre Dame football. They are who I will remember while the rest of you try and figure out who knew what, about a fake woman.