Notre Dame’s Reaction To The Te’o Hoax Vs. Its Reaction To Sexual Assault Allegations

An unflattering comparison.

Frank Polich / Getty Images

Brian Kelly and ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

As noted by writers from Salon and Jezebel this morning, Notre Dame’s reaction to Manti Te’o’s claim that he had been hoaxed online has been quite different than its reaction to the accusations of sexual assault made against a football player by Lizzy Seeberg, a student from another South Bend college who committed suicide 10 days after the alleged incident in September 2010. Before her suicide, Seeberg had received a text message from another football player warning her that “messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.” Seeberg had a history of depression but had never before attempted suicide or made an accusation of sexual assault.

Notre Dame’s response to Seeberg’s accusation:

— Police waited 13 days to interview the accused perp (that’s three days after Seeberg died), who was eventually found “not responsible” for misbehavior by a disciplinary board.
— The university president refused to meet with her parents, claiming it would undermine his impartiality in the event he had to make a decision related to the case.
— Coach Brian Kelly made light of the number of Chicago Tribune reporters asking him about the case.
— A university official and a trustee allegedly spread rumors that Seeberg was a liar who was in fact sexually aggressive toward the player she accused on the night in question.

Notre Dame’s response to Te’o’s allegation that he’d been falsely led to believe he had a girlfriend on the Internet:

— The athletic department hired private investigators to look into the matter.
— The school held a press conference the night the news broke at which it denied that its player was complicit in the hoax.
— The school held a press conference at which its athletic director called the situation “a really frightening experience” and “an incredible tragedy.”
— The school held a press conference at which its athletic director called the situation “an incredible tragedy” and began crying.

As far as we know right now, there’s nothing wrong per se with the way that Notre Dame has handled the Te’o incident. And if Te’o really was just a victim of emotional manipulation, it would be hard not to feel a little sorry for him. Nonetheless, comparing the level of urgency and sympathy demonstrated by school authorities in the two cases, it’s also hard not to agree with critics who say the school could have done far more for Seeberg than it did.

(Read much more about the Seeberg case, and Notre Dame’s history of dealing with sexual assault and rape cases, here and here.)

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