Unless you have been living underground the past two days, you’ve heard about Manti Te’o, the famed Notre Dame football player who allegedly created a girlfriend from thin air. Now, it’s certainly hard to ignore a player who creates an imaginary girlfriend then uses her serious car accident, leukemia diagnosis, and tragic passing to curry favor and good press. Still, an inordinate amount of time, column inches, ink and paper have been set aside to talk about this elaborate hoax and the case of “the invisible woman.”
There is no denying that this makes for what journalists would call “good copy,” but Salon drew our attention to a story that is not being told:
Less than a day into the Manti Te’o revelations, we’ve heard more about a fake dead girlfriend of a Notre Dame football player than a real dead girl. Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide, not long after being intimidated by Notre Dame football players for reporting a sexual assault by one of their teammates. A second woman who was taken to the hospital for a rape exam declined to formally accuse another Notre Dame football player after getting a series of bullying texts from players.
This is hardly new territory for the storied Notre Dame football program. Two years ago, Dave Zirin wrote a story for The Nation calling the program “a moral cesspool.” And they have not shied away from backing Te’o even as they turn a blind eye to the plight of Lizzy Seeberg and other young women like her. Zirin writes in a piece from this week:
Within hours of the story breaking online, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference where he backed Te’o to the hilt saying, ‘Every single thing about this was real to Manti. There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that’s the sad nature of this cruel game.’ Swarbrick revealed that a private outside firm had been hired to investigate just who had perpetrated this ‘cruel game.’ The athletic director even cried. …
It says so much that Te’o’s bizarre soap opera has moved Swarbrick to openly weeping but he hasn’t spared one tear, let alone held one press conference, for Lizzy Seeberg, the young woman who took her own life after coming forward with allegations that a member of the team sexually assaulted her.
According to the American Federation of Suicide Prevention, more than 4,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 die by suicide each year in the United States. It’s all but assured that their tragedies won’t reach the level of media saturation that Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend’s loss of life did. The organization One in Four reports that one in four college women report surviving rape and, while not all of those instances end as tragically as Lizzy Seeberg’s did, it is still an unbelievable horror that no woman should have to experience.
The only way to prevent suicide, the only way to reduce the number of rapes occurring on our college campuses, is to draw attention to the problem. We need the cooperation of students, law enforcement officials, and yes, the media.
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