The Manti Te'o mystery: Why does Notre Dame care more about a fictional dead girl than a real one?

College football is big news and big money in America, but there's a darker aspect of the culture that needs to be taken more seriously.

Share
Related Topics

Last week a story broke that caught the hearts and minds of millions: Manti Te’o, a star college athlete at Notre Dame University, had been the victim of a cruel hoax akin to the 2010 movie Catfish. He had had a long internet relationship with a girl who he loved, and who tragically died. Except she didn’t die, because she never existed.

The internet at large has announced Te’o a hero, sharing sympathies, and the Notre Dame administration has rallied round him to offer their support. The athletic director of the college took part in a 40-minute-long press conference yesterday, during which he actually cried for the sake of poor Manti. No offence, but, you know, nobody died.

In 2010, though, a young woman connected to Notre Dame football did die. Lizzy Seeberg, a first year student, killed herself eight days after reporting a Notre Dame footballer for sexual assault. It is widely believed that her allegation was handled in a wholly repugnant manner by the college administration, which will be no surprise to those following the gang rape case involving high school athletes in Steubenville, Ohio. That case sees entitled young men protected by a wall of institutional silence and the intimidation of a young victim. Similarly, Seeberg found the administration and the police in Notre Dame unhelpful and herself the victim of harassment and intimidation from friends of the player, one of whom told her “Don’t do anything you would regret. Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.” The accused himself, despite being reported to police and the college, was not even interviewed until five days after her death, over a fortnight after the original allegation.

The Notre Dame police were largely uncooperative with Seeberg; her mother recalls, "They said they were pretty busy because it's football season and there's a lot of underage drinking." The college administration was similarly hands-off.

In comparison, a private investigator has been hired by Notre Dame to get to the bottom of the Te’o hoax, an event in which nobody died or was physically hurt. Should the perpetrator be found, we can only assume that they will be harshly punished via trial by media at the very least, for “messing with Notre Dame football”.

The motivation behind the silence, and the alleged collusion between police and college to keep that silence absolute, if true, is a complex and worrying thing. There is an undeniable tendency to see these athletes as good young men: the lawyer of Seeberg’s accused assailant argued that Seeberg was the aggressor, that the accused’s reaction to her advances was to “put a stop to it, because his parents had taught him that was wrong.” It appears that the culture of academic football is a cornerstone of so many communities that it is easier and more comfortable to indulge in victim blaming and rape apology than to consider examining this obsession with the nice guy athlete.

It is the hullabaloo around the Te’o case that makes the silence around Seeberg and countless other reports of the rampant rape culture in college football all the more deafening. Already storm clouds are gathering, as people demand to know why Notre Dame cares more about the fictional death of a fictional woman, than the tragic suicide of a sexual assault victim who was all but disowned by those with a duty of care to protect her.

Why should Te’o deserve justice, when none has been afforded the countless young women and children raped and assaulted by college and high school athletes?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Secondary Teacher

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: English Teacher needed for ...

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to 'adapt and survive'

Nigel Edwards
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?