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Shadow on the Sun Bowl: Nine Questions for Notre Dame (and One for the Media)

4 years ago
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Most college football fans, whether they root for or against Notre Dame, keep tabs on what is happening in South Bend, Ind. -- such is the shadow the Fighting Irish have long cast on the sport. And on New Year's Eve, first-year Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly will lead his team onto the field in El Paso, Texas, for a Sun Bowl matchup against another storied program, the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Some of the questions surrounding Notre Dame's football program will be answered in the Sun Bowl. Unfortunately, other questions -- much more serious in nature -- will not even be addressed.
Can senior tailback Robert Hughes duplicate his sterling effort against Southern Cal? Will freshman quarterback Tommy Rees be good enough against Miami's athletic defense? Will Rees even be the best quarterback on campus in 2011? Does Notre Dame's 7-5 record only underscore the program's slide into mediocrity? Or does the team's 3-0 record in November suggest that Coach Kelly's emphasis on conditioning has paid off and Notre Dame is poised to return to its glory days? Or is Kelly, who made strategic gaffes in losses to Michigan and Tulsa, even the right guy for the job?

I love college football, but those are not my questions. My queries all center on how the University of Notre Dame treats allegations of sexual assault against its varsity athletes -- and how the school continues to justify its stalling, stonewalling, and disingenuous response to a specific complaint made against a football player just before the 2010 season began.

A young woman, Elizabeth "Lizzy" Seeberg, went to Saint Joseph's Regional Medical Center on Sept. 1, alleging that she'd been molested the night before by a Notre Dame football player. Notre Dame police were called, and Seeberg's statement was taken. The following day, she received a threatening text from a friend of the player. And eight days after that, on Sept. 10, she committed suicide. In that time, the young man she'd accused had played twice on national television without ever being questioned by police or university officials. He played the following day, too, against Michigan -- and will suit up in Friday's Sun Bowl.

Question No. 1
: Does the Notre Dame Security Police, fully licensed as an Indiana law enforcement agency, typically wait 15 days to question a man accused of a sexual crime?

Question No. 2
: In a pre-bowl interview with the South Bend Tribune, Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins asserted that "discrepancies" between Seeberg's Sept. 1 statement to police and a fuller written statement she sent the NDSP on Sept. 5 slowed the investigation. Lizzy's parents say they were told by police detectives that the two statements were "materially the same." So what were the differences in the two statements that took 15 days to resolve?

Question No. 3: And exactly how did investigators go about resolving the discrepancies in the weeks before they talked to the only other person who was in the room at the time of the incident?

Question No. 4
: After Seeberg reported the incident to authorities, a friend of the accused sent Lizzy Seeberg a text message saying, "Don't do anything you would regret. messing with notre dame football is a bad idea." Victim intimidation is a classic example of obstruction of justice. Why was this student interviewed over the phone rather than in person?

Question No. 5
: A fellow student of Seeberg's at Saint Mary's College, across the road from Notre Dame, reported how upset Lizzy was immediately after the Aug. 31 encounter with the football player -- and this friend co-signed the hand-written complaint she sat down and drafted that very night. Is it also normal procedure to wait three weeks to talk to a corroborating witness?

Question No. 6
: Did NDSP officers really tell Seeberg's mother that they weren't able to move faster in investigating her daughter's case because football season had begun and there was "a lot of underage drinking" to deal with?

Question No. 7
: Seeberg said she believed that the player and his friend, who were initially in the player's dorm room along with another woman, might have been texting each other about leaving her alone with the player. St. Joseph County prosecutor Michael Dvorak placed great emphasis on the "discrepancy" between Seeberg's impression and cell phone records, examined at the Seeberg family's insistence, that did not bear this out. But if Seeberg was mistaken in that regard, how does that in any way undermine her complaints that she was groped against her will and threatened later?

Question No. 8
: In announcing that no criminal charges would be filed, Dvorak, whose son is a Notre Dame grad running for mayor of South Bend, offered a gratuitous defense of the student who sent Lizzy the ominous text message: "The student subjectively believed Ms. Seeberg's complaint was false and therefore he had a legitimate purpose for his text messages." Does the prosecutor understand that such statements make the entire exercise sound like a cover-up, not a genuine investigation?

Question No. 9
: Just what message do Notre Dame officials think they are sending to male and female students about how seriously complaints of sexual battery are taken?

Bonus question for the Media
: The Chicago Tribune coverage of the Seeberg story is in the best tradition of newspapering, and my Politics Daily colleague Melinda Henneberger, a devoted Notre Dame grad, has with a heavy heart written about it repeatedly -- here and here and here. My question: Where is everyone else?

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