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Notre Dame's Punt in the Probe of Lizzy Seeberg's Sad Death

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LOS ANGELES -- Elizabeth "Lizzy" Seeberg was a college freshman with a wide-open smile – here is a heartbreaking photo of her in spaghetti straps and pearls – who built houses with Habitat for Humanity and hoped to become a nurse. Lizzy also suffered from depression, and 10 days after telling friends and campus cops that she'd been sexually assaulted by a University of Notre Dame football player, rape crisis volunteers who knew she had missed a counseling session found her barely breathing in her dorm room.
The 19-year-old daughter of serious Catholics and prominent volunteers in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook died on Sept. 10, of what turned out to be a lethal dose of the anti-depressant Effexor. And the football player, who hasn't been named? He is not only still in school, but wasn't even benched, according to the Chicago Tribune, and presumably will take the field against University of Southern California on Saturday, with my whole ND-adoring family in attendance. I love my alma mater, (really, I do) but the thought that I might be cheering for Lizzy's attacker makes me want to shake down more than some thunder.
Not long after the semester began, on the evening of Aug. 31, Seeberg told her friends at St. Mary's College, the all-women's school across the road from Notre Dame, that she had been assaulted but not raped in an attack that was interrupted by a knock on a dorm-room door. That same night, she sat down and hand-wrote an account of all that had happened, and the next day made a full report to the Notre Dame cops. She also sought treatment at a hospital, where she submitted to DNA testing and accepted an offer of counseling.
There have been conflicting reports about whether Notre Dame ever reported her allegations to the county cops who were supposed to be investigating her death. And lucky Notre Dame, from the sound of it, that any crimes committed on the campus are handled not by the South Bend Police Department, but by St. Joseph's County. I say this because county officials at first said the school hadn't informed them of Seeberg's allegations at all. Then, after her death became national news, they changed their story and said their lead investigator had gotten such a call "a couple days" after being assigned to the case, but had disregarded the information because "he just didn't feel it was important."
Lizzy Seeberg's family, naturally, feels otherwise, and has hired former federal prosecutor Zachary Fardon, who is best known as the guy who took down former Illinois Gov. George Ryan for corruption. Lawyered-up school officials, meanwhile, continue to claim it would be a violation of federal law for them to answer any questions about their handling of either her allegations or her apparent suicide. The Tribune has also reported that ND's new football coach, Brian Kelly, cracked wise when repeatedly asked about the matter during a conference call with sportswriters.
You would think that the sass would already have been knocked out of Kelly by the October death of team videographer Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old killed during a practice when the scissor lift he was perched on fell over in a windstorm, raising questions about whether ND's athletic department has sense enough to put student safety first.
Yet he managed to come off as cavalier about a vulnerable young woman who had begun a school year that was already a do-over for her -- she'd left the University of Dayton after a single semester in '09 -- with high hopes. She "was so excited and so enthusiastic about starting the year off right," a high school friend told the Tribune. "She had a whole plan about what she was going to be."
After reporting that she'd been attacked, though, the newspaper said, Lizzy "suddenly felt self-conscious'' and "feared people would dislike her for accusing a Notre Dame athlete of a sex crime.'' So, four days after filling out a police report, she pulled on a green Notre Dame T-shirt, applied a fake "ND" tattoo to her cheek, and in search of "normalcy," went with friends to a tailgate party to celebrate the first football game of the season.
Though it's true that the football player whose yearbook photo she pointed out to campus cops hasn't been charged, he also hasn't been cleared, and the idea that officials could have conducted anything approaching a thorough investigation in the three days between her report and that first game is absurd. Asking fans to cheer for the team knowing that one of its members has been accused of such a thing is not completely unlike asking that Texas cheerleader to applaud her own rapist.
Do school officials really believe its stonewalling communicates to male and female students that such allegations are taken seriously, or that young women are valued on a par with football players? And what did St. Mary's College President Carol Ann Mooney mean, in her e-mail to students, when she said that while the concern of students in response to the initial Tribune story highlights "what we all know is special about Saint Mary's, our unique sense of community...I realize this story will reawaken painful memories." (Was she saying that it was the story that was the real trouble, rather than the troubling events it reported? And could the death of a fellow student on a tiny campus only a couple of months ago have been far from the community's thoughts even before the Tribune's reports?)
The whole problem with having a team you root for, whether in sports or in politics, is that unless you are fan enough to believe that only the guys on the other side could ever do anything wrong, your own team will at some point behave in a way that does not exactly make you feel like cheering. But it's what happens then that defines us. And if the school does have information that would exonerate the player, and thus the whole team, this would be an excellent time to produce it.

Click here to follow Melinda Henneberger on Twitter.
Filed Under: Crime, Woman Up

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What about the idea and law by the way that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and not on the internet or in a newspaper? Why would a school take action against someone who hadn't even been charged by the police? Did they (the police) wait too long? Obviously. Do they have a case? Obviously not. So what are you trying to do? Try a case against him in the court of public opinion where assumption and innuendo rule? Obviously.

December 28 2010 at 5:34 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This is terrible the way you are riding this. Lizzy was a sick girl and you know it. If there were some impropriety(and I believe there probably was but that's just my feeling and is no proof of any kind) it was by her own statement of the most easily misinterpreted kind by both parties and why was she in his room to start with??? Come on and give it a rest. Obviously it wasn't handled properly but the idea that this incident was responsible for her suicide is ludicrous. She was an unbalanced girl and probably belonged at home under a doctors care and not in school at all but her parents(who now cry foul) let her go knowing her mental state. Kinda like the guy who buys his son a sports car and wonders why he is dead in an automobile accident. There is plenty of blame to go around but trying to hang a guy just so you can cheer for Notre Dame again......

December 28 2010 at 5:24 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bolo5000's comment

How disgustingly ignorant. It is NEVER the victim's fault. All reports openly acknowledge her mental illness...what does that have to do with the case? What is infuriating here is the amount of back-tracking, discrepancy, and nonchalance put forth by Notre Dame administration. Were the accused anything but a star football player, I'd be willing to bet everything that this would have been handled differently. And...what? People with anxiety and depression belong in a "home?" Have you any idea the percentage of people in the world suffering from these afflictions? It's a large one.

December 28 2010 at 8:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Big Bush-Hater

Notre Dame has a history of criminal football players getting away, well, some have gotten away, some have been disciplined. But it is now time for the "Death Penalty" to be applied to ND football. But I doubt that will ever happen, way too much money involved. Any woman who has attended or is attending ND must be deeply ashamed of the way ND handled this. Liz was a real girl, and ND football in nothing more than a game. A game that makes ND very rich . . . but not rich in soul.

December 26 2010 at 9:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My prayers go out to lizzy and her family :(

December 17 2010 at 4:42 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I know that I would investigate, in a nano second, said player(s) regardless of ND's football programs reputation. That is secondary to life itself. What was more important is/was that these guy(s) be brought to justice regardless of a silly football game. Either make the case (based on evidence) or not... give the proof that would help exonerate the accused player. Being proactive would have been much better for the schools reputation for a number of obvious reasons. (religion, integrity, financial, to name a few...)Maybe the coach should be sidelined...How he ever got hired with that cavalier (and archaic) attitude is is beyond me. He's BAD for the program! Man up ND !!!

December 07 2010 at 8:28 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Stop blaming a young man until the facts come out. Already at that tender age she was on anti depressints. Maybe there was something deeper taking hold of her.My prayers go out to her family and may they find peace.

December 04 2010 at 6:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As is usually the case, this is not so much a matter of what happened, but rather who it happened to. If this had been the daughter of a high-ranking Notre Dame executive, I can only believe we'd be reading a different story now.

December 03 2010 at 2:53 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

If law enforcement has D.N.A. evidence, why has someone not been arrested ? GOD BLESS this young lady and her family.

December 02 2010 at 7:20 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

This situation is sadly reminiscent of an event involving one of my daughters while she was attending a Jesuit university on the West Coast. She turned in another student who was dealing drugs out of his dorm room, just down the hall. The school placed the student on suspension, but never brought in police and allowed him to stay on campus. When the student began to harass my daughter she notified the school. They did NOTHING. When I personally complained to the Head Jesuit/President: he said there was nothing he could do. My daughter ended up having to leave the University. I fought back in the following ways: I immediately suspended all monetary donations to the school & I've counseled at least 10 high school students to go to a different university. Thankfully my daughter didn't suffer the same type of trauma as this poor girl. She ended up graduating 3 years later from a State University, with honors, and with two degrees.

December 02 2010 at 3:18 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to crewjock's comment

Just wondering...why didn't you take evidence directly to the police after the fact? That would have been helpful establishing a tangible response to the schools lack there of. This in addition to your own thoughtful response of course. Glad your daughter is prospering. :) She obviously has strong parents to back her up. Bravo! Now do one last favor for her...teach her to stand up to bullies!

December 07 2010 at 8:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's been akin to a 'tradition' that crimes like rape or sexual assault involving star college athletes are swept under the radar and the proverbial rug since colleges were created. Most College Boards want these 'things' kept quiet very many reasons; since the truth has never been a popular choice. The first reason has always been about the "reputation" of the school. Much more important than an individuals well-being of course. The second reason and probably most important in the school's eyes is that NOTHING gets in the way of College Football; EVER. Too bad it's become such a negative business. Truly a shame. Elizabeth appeared to be a remarkable young woman. My condolences to her family.

December 02 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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