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

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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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Why don't you print his name? If you guys had any stones whatsoever, you'd print his name and take on the lawsuits with full journalistic vigor. God knows your editor in chief all but did that in her first article.

I wonder if the Seebergs are alright with writers like yourselves opening up their daughter's life to be dragged through the mud, because that's what you are doing. It's only a matter of time before some pro-ND writer starts to dig into her mental history and find out why she left her first college and why she was on effexor, etc..

There's no story. One of the parties is dead, the other made his statement. There were no witnesses. There's no physical evidence. Nobody except Dvorak has seen the investigative report and thus are not qualified to make any determinant statement on the legitimacy of the facts contained therein. Notre Dame legally cannot respond because the Seeberg girl did not attend ND but rather St. Marys and ND is barred by federal law from making statements. You guys are trying to manufacture a story out of nothing. Good luck trying to earn a Pulitzer on the back of a dead girl. Maybe you can hold hands with David Haugh and your editor in chief on your way down.

January 05 2011 at 1:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bonus, Bonus questions for politics daily: When are you going to print the actual accusations? Only in the comments have you admitted the 'perpetrator' was accused of touching the victim's face and maybe touching her breasts - but you haven't been able to verify that last part. So ultimately this story is about FACE TOUCHING.

I can answer your last question - the reason no-one else is picking this up is b/c no-one sees the point in sensationalizing this story, thereby making it more tragic than it already is.

For reference,here is what Melinda says in the comments (but not in the story): "She herself said there was never any rape, unwanted touching in that he held her face while they kissed. It has been suggested that a breast might have been touched but those are not yet known as facts."

January 01 2011 at 10:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to med8898's comment

Med8898, this isn't about face touching. It's about the football player, who had a history of violence by the way, intimidating her, trapping her in a room and refusing to let her leave, telling her to pee in his sink (while he watched) when she said she needed the bathroom in the hope of escaping, and then grabbing her breasts as she cried and shook. Trying to make this sound like nothing because no penetration occured is truly sick. Read Lizzy's report.

February 05 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

GREED in American College Football will always win out. Justice does not matter in South Bend, or any other major college football town unless they're forced into it. So lock up your Daughters if going to a major football powerhouse.

December 31 2010 at 4:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wolfml1's comment

Yeah, because girls are getting raped left and right at major football schools.

This is why comment sections on websites should require licenses to use. The utter lack of logic is just astounding.

January 05 2011 at 1:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Le Fay

No one will ever know all the facts of the sad dituation of the Seeberg matter because she is dead. That aside, why were those two young women in that Dorm room in the first place, Seeberg never having laid eyes upon the footballer prior. What is also troubling is that Seeberg seems to have been documented to be taking medication that would suggest she had some sort of emotional problems, the details of which have yet to come to light and may suggest she was quite emotionaly fragile and prone to over react to situations. Querry, is being groped a normal reaction that would lead to suicide??? Was it even related??? Was this suicide actualy more related to the feeling of abandonment by her girlfriend???

December 31 2010 at 12:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Le Fay's comment

Perhaps if the police hadn't waited 15 days to question the football player, we'd have more information. Perhaps if the police had taken the threat of intimidation more seriously, and had actually questioned the texter in person and confiscated his phone, we'd have more information. Perhaps if the police had interviewed the corroborating witness sooner, we'd have more information. Perhaps if the police weren't so busy keeping tabs on underage drinking, we'd have more information. Perhaps if the police and the DA actually understood how cell phones work and had done the appropriate forensics in a timely fashion, we'd have more information.

This is a story about an investigation that was so seriously flawed, one can only speculate as to whether it was a matter of gross incompetence or a major coverup.

December 31 2010 at 7:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Does the death of a young woman really matter to the Catholic church with all the petifiles still preaching Mass?Ted Kennedy was absolved of all his sins for murder also so what's the big deal.Talk to the K-Y jelly king in Rome.

December 31 2010 at 7:03 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

I have read all of Ms. Henneberger's articles over and over, and not only do I NOT get the sense that she has written them "with a heavy heart" as you say she has, I think she has written them with relish. She is enjoying raking Notre Dame and everyone who loves Notre Dame through the mud. As we all know, though, you either love Notre Dame, or you hate Notre Dame, and a story like this with conspiracy theories and suggestions of a cover-up just whips the anti-Catholic, anti-Notre Dame crowd into a frenzy and allows them an opportunity to blog their hate for all to see. And why would you want the rest of the media to pile on? To validate Ms. Henneberger's (and now your) vendetta . . .

December 31 2010 at 12:29 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Keeping in mind that, as you can clearly see from my screen name, I despise Notre Dame and Notre Dame football, here are my questions for Mr. Cannon:

1. Why is your collegue, Ms. Henneberger, assuming that everything Ms. Seeberg said is true, especially since we know there are discrepancies in the statements? Is "innocent until proven guilty" truly a lost concept in this country?

2. Is Ms. Seeberg's psychological history really, really not to be considered?

3. Is this story really, REALLY more important than that of the kid who was literally murdered in a storm, with no action being taken against Coach Kelly?

December 30 2010 at 8:28 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cane87's comment

Check the definition of "murder" before you start accusing someone of it . . . that the poor young man died in an accident is horrible, but it was definitely NOT murder.

mur·der   [mur-der] noun
1. the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first-degree murder), and murder by intent but without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder).

December 31 2010 at 12:59 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The investigation into what did or did not happen looks just like the text message said.Even the police were afraid to do their job or do not have the skills to do their jobs.I really think an average person off the streets could have directed a better investigation then these so called professional lawmen.You may paint those helmets that bright gold each week but there seems to be marks on them you can't cover-up. You see how lies and dirty deeds have destroyed part of the Catholic Church attendance. Are you going to allow shottie police investigations destroy the sports programs too. I don't think anybody in the Notre Dame Police Department and the investigative services slaps a sign when they hit their beat that says somethings like play like champions.

December 30 2010 at 7:59 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

This seems to be a pretty sad performance by Notre Dame. Whether the allegegations are true or not, Dvorak's defense of the student who texted Seeberg is inexcusable. Perhaps the ND police should recuse themselves fromt the case. It's incredible they didn't interview the suspect for 15 days. I hope the truth will come out.

December 30 2010 at 5:49 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

I wonder "What makes college football and it's players think they are untouchable when it comes to being held accountable for their actions? I find it so hard to believe that a well-known college such as Notre Dame has fumbled this investigation to the extent that it did. Why was something not done right away? There is no excuse for the way the investigation was mis-handled. The football player involved should not be on the field. Every college campus needs to put more emphasis on the safety of our children. All students, male or female, need to feel safe when away at school. My prayers go out to the family of Ms. Seeberg.

December 30 2010 at 5:20 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

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