The mission statement for Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, places integrity at the core of the institution’s values: “The university is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.” But two news stories coming out of South Bend are raising questions about the university’s commitment to integrity.
At first Notre Dame’s biggest problem seemed to be its embarrassing loss to the University of Alabama in the climactic Bowl Championship Series game. After the January 7 game ended with an astonishing final score of 42 – 14, all eyes turned to the victorious Crimson Tide.
Or they should have. Instead sportswriters focused their attention on Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s linebacker, who was quickly becoming the center of a strange story. Te’o had often been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy prospect, and fans were especially impressed by his devotion to football: Although his grandmother and his girlfriend died within a short time of each other during the football season, Te’o played in every game.
But then the sports blog Deadspin announced that Manti had been the victim of a cruel hoax: The girlfriend never existed. Te’o, who had described the romance in glowing terms in an earlier Sports Illustrated interview, finally admitted that he’d never met her in person: It had been a long-distance romance.
The story got worse. The Associated Press found out that Te’o and Notre Dame had discovered the hoax a month earlier, on December 6, but Te’o continued to pretend that the romance was real. And fans realized that the “girlfriend” was supposed to have been in a month-long coma after a serious automobile accident on April 28, but Te’o never tried to visit her in the hospital. ”It never really crossed my mind. I don’t know. I was in school,” he said later.
Despite the inconsistencies, Notre Dame has continued to view Manti Te’o as an innocent victim of the wrongdoing of others. (The hoax is under investigation.) Meanwhile the story has prompted a second look at another uncomfortable story involving a woman and a football player at Notre Dame.
In a lengthy report just published by the National Catholic Reporter, journalist Melinda Henneberger examined the case of a female student who committed suicide shortly after complaining that a football player had sexually assaulted her. On September 1, 2010, Lizzy Seeberg told police that she had been attacked during a late-night visit to the athlete’s dorm room. Campus police did not question the suspect or bar him from football practice. Ten days later, Seeberg killed herself. Five days after her death, Notre Dame finally began an investigation—and ultimately decided not to file charges.
Seeberg’s family and friends were especially outraged by allegations that Lizzy was emotionally unstable and sexually aggressive. The University refuses to answer questions about its characterization of Seeberg, citing a confidentiality agreement—one that that family says does not exist.
Observers questioned police procedures at the famous university. A former Notre Dame Security Police officer said that obstacles were routinely placed obstacles between police and athletes accused of sexual crimes. The University vigorously disagrees, insisting that athletes get no protection or special treatment.
Lizzy Seeberg’s death in 2010 led to a federal investigation and improvements in procedures for investigating sexual assault accusations at Notre Dame. But after questioning a number of female students in South Bend, Melinda Henneberger says she is not convinced that police procedures have significantly improved. As the Manti Te’o story continues to unfold, we may be hearing additional questions about the Fighting Irish and their famous university’s commitment to integrity.
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.