The Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger explains why she will not be rooting for her alma mater in the BCS championship game next month.
Only one game away from completing an undefeated season as national champions, with a linebacker in contention to win the Heisman Trophy, Notre Dame fans have plenty of reasons to cheer.
This is not one of them.
Lizzy Seeberg, a freshman at St. Mary’s College, was 19-years-old when she committed suicide in September 2010, 10 days after reporting an incident of sexual assault. The student she accused of attacking her is a Notre Dame football player. Campus police reportedly waited 15 days after Seeberg’s complaint–5 days after her death–to interview him. According to a statement from the university, “The local prosecutor examined all of the facts in this case at length and said charges were not warranted.”
The following February, another young woman said that she was raped by a Notre Dame football player at an off-campus party. The friend who drove her to the hospital afterwards said the woman decided not to file a complaint because of what happened to Seeberg.
“There is very much an institutional problem at Notre Dame,” said The Washington Post’s Melinda Henneberger, who is herself a Notre Dame alum, on Hardball Thursday. “Far worse to me than these horrible attacks, which unfortunately do happen in every institution on every campus in the country, is the way the men who run Notre Dame responded to the report, responded to try to cover up what happened, and responded in a very ugly whisper campaign against this poor girl.”
This “whisper campaign” refers to the school’s explanation that Seeberg suffered from depression and was unstable. Investigators ruled that Seeberg’s account was untrue because her statement that the assailant stopped when he received a call contradicted phone records. In fact, the football player placed a call, but did not receive one.
In her piece entitled, “Why I won’t be cheering for old Notre Dame,” Henneberger writes that what really surprises her is the number of friends who assume she will support her alma mater anyway, despite her belief that two players on the team may have committed serious criminal acts.
“How many predators would have to be on the team before it would make you feel like not cheering?” said Henneberger.
In a statement to Hardball, a Notre Dame spokesman responded to the delay in interviewing the accused football player: “We acknowledge that the police could have acted a bit more quickly after taking [Seeberg’s] statements, but we also believe it was more important to be thorough than fast.”
“I’ve talked to a number of people who work with sexual assaults, with police departments all over the country,” said Henneberger. “You wouldn’t find a one that will say it’s better to wait and give the accused maximum time to get their stories straight.”
But perhaps just as troubling as the possible negligence on part of the school are the loyal fans for whom football is so high a priority, they are willing to excuse a couple of potential criminals and cheer anyway.
Said Henneberger, “What upsets me is when my fellow alums say there are bad apples on every team. That may well be true, I don’t dispute that. But when you’re trading on the moral superiority of your institution and running a whisper campaign smearing a dead 19-year-old, that’s a problem.”