What About Lizzy?

I’m sure you have heard more than you want to about Manti Te’o and his make-believe girl friend. The story has been told again and again about the fictional girl the Notre Dame linebacker fell in love with online whose “tragic” death inspired the man to play at the highest levels — and thereby (coincidentally) improve his chances of winning the Heisman trophy and going higher in the NFL draft. In any event, the story has been beaten to death — which is not to say we have heard the last of it. But one very interesting feature of that story was brought out by Christine Brennan in USA Today on January 20th when she noted the amount of ink that has been spilled telling Manti’s story while at the same time the story about the death of Lizzy Seeberg, a former (real-life) Freshman at St. Mary’s College, is widely ignored.

It turns out that Lizzy was assaulted by a Notre Dame football player in 2010. She filed a formal complaint with authorities against the advice of a friend who warned her that she shouldn’t “mess with Notre Dame football.” Her complaint was ignored and the football player was never even contacted by campus police; a week later Lizzy committed suicide. Her written complaint was later regarded as inadmissible: since she was no longer alive to testify it was mere hearsay. The player has never been charged. Further, the story was completely ignored for 2 1/2 months until it came to light as a result of a Chicago Tribune story. And yet we still hear nothing from the University about Lizzy’s death and the events that might have brought it about, while we hear endlessly about the death of a fictional girl who may well be part of a hoax designed by Te’o and even condoned by the University — which has been very public in defending the football player while it kept mum about Lizzy’s death.

What we have here is a combination of two things: (1) a new double standard which demands that college athletes be treated differently from other students, and (2) the culture of secrecy that surrounds and protects major college football and which came to a head recently in the Penn State scandal. It is clear that football players and even the coaches themselves, are held to different standards of conduct from the rest of the student-body at the major colleges. Football and basketball programs prefer it if the administration doesn’t get involved in their business, and they pretty much get their way.  After all, they bring in huge amounts of money and that is rapidly becoming the name of the game — if it hasn’t been right along.

The double standard we are all too familiar with encouraged many to brag about men like Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain who had illicit love affairs with hundreds of women — or so they claimed — and those same people would tar a young woman and cover her with feathers if it was said that she had slept with half that many men. Martina Navratilova pointed that out at the time and she was spot on. But while we still seem to expect women to behave better than men, the old double standard has been largely replaced by the new one that is seen mostly on college campuses, but is also evident in the culture at large. It reflects the hero-worship talented athletes enjoy as the law seems always to allow them more leeway than the rest of us. In our colleges and universities it translates into the high comfort-level enjoyed by the athletes as they are assured the protection of their coaches and administrators no matter how outrageous their behavior.

So in the end Lizzy’s death goes unnoticed while the airwaves are filled with the gossip about Manti Te’o and his fictional girlfriend. It’s enough to make a person take up strong drink — if he hadn’t already done so long ago.

7 thoughts on “What About Lizzy?

  1. years ago while reading an in-flight magazine, i was amused by an article that stated, ‘if you’re one of those few people who hasn’ t seen an episode of Survivor…” — it was the first i had ever heard of survivor, and i was on my way home to mississippi and managed to sneak a peek or two.

    again i must be one of the few who has never heard of Manti Te’o and Madame Make Believe.

    i had not heard of poor Lizzy either. how tragic that she felt so overwhelmed, frustrated and saddened that suicide was the only way to stop the pain.

    i will stop reading posts for now and ponder this food for thought.

    thanks for keeping me informed,

    • Sorry I couldn’t brighten your day, but this is a sad and ongoing story that raises provoking questions. And that’s what the gadfly feeds on! The good news is that this story is now being told.

      • that’s great that, because of her death, and because of the current focus, Lizzie finally has a voice.

        my reflections are that most of us/all of us (?) get caught up in our own shallow mini soap operas and often forget to have empathy for those who are truly struggling. that’s especially tragic when it’s someone we know. when they do something as tragic as Lizzy did, we awaken from our fog and wonder how we could’ve missed the clues.

    • They ought all to be reduced to the Division III level — with no scholarships. And what we now call Division I should be a paid league of professional athletes who wear the colors of the universities who pay them. It’s the money that rots things in college sports.

  2. Hugh, thanks for sharing. This is troubling, though not surprising as you have noted in earlier blogs. I come back to the premise, the position is greater than the incumbent. When the incumbent, whether it is a football player, coach, priest, senator, or congressman (gender intended due to issue), dishonors the position, then the organization only damages itself and hurts the victim by failing to act. I recognize that people are innocent until proven guilty, but the organization needs to act to suspend while investigating or do something. The Duke Lacrosse players turned out to be innocent of the rape charge, but what was lost in the false charges, was the fact these guys were known assholes and denigrated women and people. It is terribly unfair to be tried in the press, yet organizations could separate charges and events and take action on what is known and look into the other accusations. To be silent is a crime in and of itself. It led to Lizzy’s death as she was ignored. Well done Professor Curtler. BTG

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