The Notre Dame Player Who Allegedly Assaulted A Woman (Who Then Committed Suicide) Is Playing For A National Championship

Lizzy Seeberg
CREDIT: Courtesy of the Seeberg Family

Flush off a dramatic 22-13 victory over USC to extend their unbeaten season and propel them into the BCS College Football Championship Game, number 1 ranked Notre Dame is sky-high right now after being largely irrelevant on the college football scene for the past two decades. ABC’s prime-time coverage Saturday night was filled with stories about the team camaraderie, the inspirational leadership of senior linebacker and Heisman hopeful Manti Te’o, and the emergence of freshman quarterback Everett Golson.

One story that wasn’t mentioned is reported by Tim Layden in Sports Illustrated (subscribers only) this week:

The current generation of Notre Dame football will be forever connected-and in a very complex manner-to the lives of Declan Sullivan and Lizzy Seeberg, both of whom died during Brian Kelly’s first season. Sullivan was a 20-year-old junior who worked as a videographer for the football team; he was killed on Oct. 27, 2010, when the portable tower from which he was filming football practice crashed in high winds (after which the practice was not immediately stopped). Seeberg was a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind.; she accused a Notre Dame football player of assaulting her on Aug. 31, 2010, and 10 days later committed suicide in her dorm room.

…The aftermath of a loss has not been so satisfying for the Seeberg family. After an interaction with a Notre Dame football player on the night of Aug. 31, Seeberg sent a text message to her therapist that said: “Hey- can we talk in a little bit. I’ve been drinking and something bad happened. I can’t talk right now because I’m kinda in an awkward situation but I’m on my way back to saint mary’s.” Upon returning to her room, Seeberg wrote and signed a description of having been assaulted by a Notre Dame football player in his campus dorm room and gave the paper to Notre Dame’s campus police the next day. Two days after the encounter Seeberg received a text message from a friend of the player, which said: “Don’t do anything you would regret. Messing with notre dame football is a bad idea.”

Eight days later Seeberg committed suicide by ingesting a lethal dose of medication that had been prescribed to treat depression and anxiety. Notre Dame police didn’t attempt to contact the accused player until nine days after the alleged assault and didn’t reach him until five days after Seeberg’s death. The story of Seeberg’s accusation and death remained largely unreported until the Chicago Tribune broke it in mid-November of that year. On Dec. 16, 2010, the prosecuting attorney for St. Joseph County announced that there would be no charges filed in the case, most pointedly because Seeberg’s written statement would be ruled inadmissible as hearsay, because she is dead. In his first interview on the subject, Lizzy’s father, Tom Seeberg, told the Tribune, “Ultimately, there’s a sense of betrayal.”

In conversations with SI, Tom Seeberg declined to make further public statements, but it was clear that his outrage has not ebbed. The player accused by Lizzy is still a member of the football team. Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, refused to meet with the Seeberg family, 11 members of which have attended the university (and two others Saint Mary’s). Two years ago, Jenkins made one statement to the South Bend Tribune in which he explained that as the final arbiter of campus discipline he couldn’t meet with the Seebergs because, “I try to remain somewhat distant so I’m not tainted by one side or another presenting their side of the story.” A Notre Dame spokesperson declined further comment this week. The Seeberg case did trigger an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights into student-on-student sexual harassment, including sexual violence at Notre Dame, and resulted in significant changes in the ways such incidents are handled by the university.

On the first Saturday in November, Tom Seeberg found himself watching part of Notre Dame’s comeback victory over Pittsburgh with his son, the first time they have watched a game since Lizzy’s death. He was not enthralled by the victory and no longer charmed by the traditions. His son once had a PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION poster, but that’s been taken down. Here, as the cameras focused on students singing Notre Dame’s alma mater, he felt himself tearing up, knowing that his girl would have been sitting in the seats. But instead she was gone.

So how is it that the unnamed player is still on the team? Another section of the story – though it doesn’t address the topic directly – explains a change in the relationship between student athletes and the university.

Generations of Notre Dame students, including football players, have lived by the rules laid down in a booklet (and now a Web page) called du Lac: A Guide to Student Life. Hence, when fifth-year senior fullback Rashon Powers-Neal was arrested for DUI in the fall of 2005, du Lac mandated that he be suspended from all extracurricular activities, including intercollegiate athletics. Weis had no say in the decision. Three years later Weis lost tight end Will Yeatman, who was arrested for suspicion of underage drinking, resisting arrest and providing false information in a raid at an off-campus party that nabbed 37 Notre Dame students, including 22 athletes. (The charges were dismissed against Yeatman, who had previously pled guilty to DUI. He transferred to Maryland and now plays for the Dolphins.)

Upon leaving Notre Dame, Weis did an interview with a small group of selected media in which he said, in response to a question about the biggest problem on Notre Dame’s campus, “Oh, it’s Residence Life [the disciplinary branch of the school's student affairs office]. It’s not even close for second…. I just think these are college kids, and college kids do what college kids do. Let’s say a kid has been too loud because he had some alcohol, why wouldn’t you just tell him to go to bed? … I’m just saying boys will be boys, and I’m just defending them.” (Weis never specifically said that he was talking about football players, but he was the football coach.)

More quietly, in the summer of 2010 Notre Dame dismissed associate vice president for residence life Bill Kirk, who for more than two decades had been du Lac ‘s enforcer. Kirk’s leaving was seen by some in the Notre Dame community as a capitulation to the departed Weis’s clamor for softer discipline. Philosophy associate professor David Solomon, who has taught at the school since 1968 and was the director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, wrote a 2,000-word post on the online newspaper The Irish Rover, in which he said that football fans, “… frequently charge that Bill Kirk’s enforcement of Notre Dame’s disciplinary code was too harsh and that his insistence that Notre Dame athletes be subject to the same rules as other Notre Dame students was responsible for our repeated failures on the athletic fields.” And also this: “In a summer in which all Domers were celebrating the distance between our oversight of athletics and the disorderly mess at USC, this incident [Kirk's exit] raised questions about just how different we really are.”

…The changes became evident when wide receiver Michael Floyd was arrested for drunken driving in the spring of 2011, before his final season at Notre Dame. It was Floyd’s third alcohol-related offense during his college career, yet his discipline was handled by Kelly, and Floyd did not miss a game. “With Michael Floyd,” says Kelly, “I was the beneficiary of the student code of conduct being updated. Residential Life is going to be the final authority, but changes to du Lac kept Michael in the university, which then allowed me to discipline him to the level that [I deemed]was appropriate.

Kirk’s departure in the summer of 2010, before the death of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeburg probably explains how the player was never punished.

With the Jerry Sandusky scandal still fresh in people’s minds, there may be a feeling that seeing Notre Dame playing in the BCS Championship game (their opponent will probably be the winner of the SEC Championship game) is some sort of vindication for clean, high-minded programs. Other’s may think that this Notre Dame team is following in the footsteps of Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz’s “Do It the Right Way” approach to football at Notre Dame.

Wrong on both counts.

Notre Dame sold its soul for this title shot. That puts them right there in company of Penn State, another “clean” program who sold their soul for wins.

Penn State just did it longer…

Update: Melinda Henneberger, a political writer for The Washington Post, details Seeburg’s sexual assault case, and notes that there have been other unreported cases involving Notre Dame football players both before and after Seeburg’s death. She also reports that Lizzy was “both politically and personally conservative, a brand new member of the College Republicans who led her parish youth group and spoke openly about saving herself for marriage.” It’s a long, disturbing read that details the culture of stigmatizing the victim and discouraging young women from coming forward.

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  • jim_m

    Upon returning to her room, Seeberg wrote and signed a description of
    having been assaulted by a Notre Dame football player in his campus dorm
    room and gave the paper to Notre Dame’s campus police the next day.

    As also is mentioned that her accusation is inadmissible in court as hearsay. Unfortunately, she did not go to an emergency room and have an exam establishing sexual assault. She was slow to report the incident, now we will never know what happened as there is no physical evidence of the crime and only her accusation.

    To compare this to Sandusky is reprehensible. With Sandusky we had evidence of a decades long cover up and victims coming forward. Here we have neither. It would not surprise me to find that a data rape occurred, or that students (as is alleged) pressured her to keep silent. Neither amounts to what happened at PSU.

    • 914

      I would say edit is in effect but it might rub Bruce the wrong way. lol

    • herddog505

      jim_mTo compare this to Sandusky is reprehensible.

      I suggest a difference of degree, not of kind. IF it can be demonstrated that the player did, indeed, assault the girl and that the university (ahem) looked the other way, then I say that they did the same thing as Penn State: ignored a despicable crime in the interests of a f*cking football game.

      With the girl’s death, I doubt that we’ll ever really know.

      At the very least, it doesn’t look well for ND to so publicly reject the idea that students – and especially student athletes – should be held to any sort of disciplinary standards.

      • jim_m

        You’re right. With her death we will never know. But some would convict and punish ND regardless. That is not appropriate. Nor is singling ND out for the sort of double standard that is rampant in the NCAA.

        Also, there is a difference between the crimes of student athletes and what happened at PSU. At PSU they covered up for a serial rapist for well over a decade. They perjured themselves before a Grand Jury to cover it up. There is a huge difference in the scale of the crime and the cover up.

        • the fedex guy

          in the interest of due process maybe you should wait until trials have unfolded before saying anyone puerjured themselves

        • JBQ21

          Notre Dame was supposed to be “special”. Now, they are “special” as in special education and the bringing on of the “slug” athlete to bring back the glory.

    • Commander_Chico

      Agreed with jim_m again, the “assault” was ambiguous at worst, and the woman was obviously troubled since she committed suicide and already had been prescribed meds for a long-standing “anxiety disorder.”

      Throwing due process and other rights out the window when it’s a “sexual assault” is BS. There are a large number of false rape claims, based on drama-queen issues, money motives, and guys not texting her back the next day.

      See http://www.cotwa.info/

      In a college context, females follow these athletes around like, well, camp followers. Then when they get boozed up in a party, flirt, and go to a guy’s room, they expect some long term relationship. That is not what the athletes are looking for.

      It’s called “regretted sex syndrome.”

      The football player in question has rights, too. Not only is there not enough evidence to hang him, he can’t even defend himself by confronting his accuser.

      All stories like this do is try to move “the system” to deprive more rights to men accused of sexual assault and start up kangaroo courts. Congress already tried to move in that direction with courts martial, but the rule changes were ruled to be unconstitutional.

      http://unwashedadvocate.com/2011/02/09/hows-that-for-a-shifted-burden/

      Recognize that they want to make any accusation tantamount to a conviction, and all becomes clear.

      • Shug

        I don’t know many girls that would commit suicide just because they “regretted” sex. So unbelievably sick of hearing this victim blaming, rape apologist bullshit.

        Since you speculate about her motives, allow me to speculate about the kind of dynamics that could’ve been at play, in view of something I read about her in another article: conservative, saving herself for marriage, member of College Republicans, etc:

        Football player with sense of entitlement about getting laid and with an advantage in social capital/power doesn’t like getting turned down by this virginal girl and takes what he thinks is rightfully his. Also a possibility.

        • MichaelPKnight

          You do realize that the accusation, from the girl herself, was not “he raped me” but “he touched my breast”. No speculation needed.

      • JBQ21

        Alan Page is now chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. He was suspended from Notre Dame for a year with five others for “having women in their rooms”. Rape could not be proven. However, the rules were that women could not go into the rooms of male students. This is now lax enough for you to rationalize the behavior of the slug who “roughed up” Lizzie. Legally once the girl entered his room, he was home scott free for whatever he did under the new rules. Guess where the term “Scott Free” comes from?

    • http://www.facebook.com/brad.erthal Brad Erthal

      An accusation by the alleged victim is not hearsay, by definition. It is an eyewitness account.

    • 32843

      Sounds like you’re describing the Duke Lacrosse team debacle. The circumstances in both cases are nearly identical with the exception that the Duke accuser did not commit suicide.

    • JBQ21

      You lack of sympathy is astounding and indicative of the “new” Notre Dame. That is why I switched my allegiance to BC and was extremely gratified with the results in 1993 when the Jewish kid, David Gordon, kicked the winning field goal into the arms of Touchdown Jesus. Father Jenkins should be ashamed. However, it didn’t bother him when the modern day King Herod was invited to speak on the campus. Jenkins is a “mover and a shaker”. I would say that as stated “he sold his soul”.

  • David F. Baskwill

    Penn State is now arguably the cleanest school in the NCAA. There is evidence that 3 individuals “sold their soul” at PSU. My hopes are they will spend a very long time in jail if convicted. No one remaining at the institution has anything to do with child abuse. PSU is still the only institution in the NCAA Div. 1 that has no major infractions on the field. It’s about time the NCAA changes as much as PSU has. In actual fact, the NCAA is the most rotten apple in the basket.

    • the fedex guy

      this is an excellent point….to somehow think that psu was the only program acting immorally is an incredible close-minded view. of course it is terribly sad that it took such an extreme set of circumstances to force psu into these kind of changes, but they are taking the responsibility incredibly seriously.

      most other schools/programs that get in trouble make only the most cosmetic changes to appease the idiots at the ncaa.

  • GalacticDomin8r

    Funny, you are a type 2:

    http://ndnation.com/archives/3533

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  • Disgusted

    You should be ashamed of yourself for writing this garbage.

    An individual is accused of a crime by someone with a history of metal illness, is investigated, and absolutely zero evidence backs up their story an that individual should be punished? Thank goodness that is not te way our legal system works. Don’t forget the Duke lacrosse players who were wrongfully accused of rape because the woman made up the whole sort, but we’re punished anyway and the players lives were ruined. Just because these young men are atheletes does not mean they dot have rights and due process. If the ND player in the Seeberg case had even been suspended with the lack of evidence this claim had it would be a disgusting insult to our legal system. It is better for a thousand guilty men to go free than punish one innocent man just because they were accused of something. Publishing an article like this is disgusting and at worse than anything that has happened at the school. Again, you should be ashame at yourself.

    • Commander_Chico

      You must have missed the crucial line:

      Lizzy was “both politically and personally conservative, a brand new member of the College Republicans who led her parish youth group and spoke openly about saving herself for marriage.”

      It’s all tribal with this crowd, even if they have to team up with the most extreme feminists.

      Only if the football player was revealed as a “conservative,” and Lizzy as a liberal, would it have been the other way around.

      • jim_m

        It’s all tribal with this crowd, even if they have to team up with the most extreme feminists.

        So you are claiming that I am not a conservative? Clearly I cannot be since I oppose Doug’s premise. WW and Herddog might be surprised to learn that as well.

        • Commander_Chico

          Well, I take your point about you and WW (herddog was on the fence) but I can’t figure it out any other way.

      • herddog505

        WTF? Are you seriously saying that our views on crime and punishment are driven by the political persuasion of the alleged perp and victim???

        • Commander_Chico

          I am saying this kind of nonsense and spin would not have been promulgated through the National Catholic Reporter and here if Ms. Seeberg had a different political and religious perspective.

          I cannot explain this repudiation of the rules of fairness, due process and common sense any other way.

  • Wild_Willie

    Doug, I have to agree with the commenters. Too many things wrong with this story and the alleged victim. If she was in such trauma and shock, how could you just casually text your friends? Could we see all the texts? Can we see all the text’s to her councelor? I think for her doctor to state she is emotionally stable and centered when she takes powerful anti depressents and coping medication on a regular basis says to me the councilor needs to be reviewed. Also, you shouldn’t drink when taking that medications.
    Rape has been overused like the term racist. Now most people wait, rightfully so, for the evidence to present itself.
    And finally, the Washington Post always has an ax to grind. Why would she even mention republican, conservative, etc. I get suspicious of that. No need for politics if the story is sound on its own. ww

  • jim_m

    What would you do Doug? The alleged victim is dead. The accused cannot face his accuser.

    Are you going to say that you agree with the current Dept of Education guidelines where a male college student can be expelled on the unsubstantiated accusation of rape without due process, without the right to present a defense or confront his accuser?

    These guidelines are already in use in numerous institutions of so-called higher learning. They are an abomination to the ideas of freedom and justice. Male students are guilty and not given the chance to prove otherwise. Guilty before proven innocent would be an improvement over these guidelines and that is still wrong.

    What happened here is tragic. However, justice requires more than accusation.

    • RickSantelli

      What you do is you ask for an investigation as to why the police took 9 days to respond. That appears to have cost someone their life.

  • jim_m

    Notre Dame sold its soul for this title shot.

    Not quite:

    Taking into account the latest NCAA graduation stats, last week Notre Dame became the first college football team to be ranked No. 1 in the polls and No. 1 in graduation success.

  • http://www.facebook.com/OCDomer OC Domer

    I, along with thousands of others, feel absolutely horrible about the loss the Seeburg family has suffered. But even taking Seeburg’s claims at face value, the alleged “sexual assault” in this case was no more than an (apparently) unwanted groping that took place between two college-aged kids alone in a dorm room. To call it a rape, or to equate it to a rape, trivializes rape. The young man involved may have made a mistake, or misjudged Seeburg’s intentions, but that encounter was not worth the loss of Lizzy’s life. Nor is it worth ruining the life of the young man by unfairly trying to portray him as a rapist.

    • Luci

      As someone that has been sexually assaulted and raped I can say there isn’t much of a difference. It’s not what happens that is traumatic it is the emotion involved if that makes sense. Also, she was a virgin so I’m sure that made a huge difference. It was hard for me and I was far from a virgin. And if the school had done it’s job she might not have killed herself. I personally think she was more upset about the harassment from friends and other football players. But this kind of stuff has happens at colleges all the time and gets covered up. Especially Notre Dame.

    • RickSantelli

      I share your frustration with those who trivialize rape by calling everything rape. I think it creates a culture where nobody knows what to believe anymore.

      But you’re trivializing this incident by just calling this “groping”. Melinda Henneberger’s report has the details and it’s not the same as the classic grope story where some guy grabs a girl for two seconds in a bar. You’re playing the same word game as all the reactionary feminists who overuse the word “rape.” In this case it appears that a woman had some of her clothes taken off and hands put in various private areas of her body while she cried and tried to get away. She went straight to the cops, who did nothing for nine days and probably would’ve never done anything except she turned up dead. So what’s your word of choice to describe this? Does it matter? It’s a serious crime where the ridiculous response of the police may have contributed to a girl’s decision to take her life.

  • ddbq

    These comments are awesome. All legal mumbo jumbo about how she’s dead and can’t testify…and damn it she waited all the way until MORNING to go to police! Nothing about the tone at the top in South Bend regarding players threatening victims with a “don’t mess with the program” attitude. The text messages are real…you don’t threaten someone unless they’ve got something on you.

  • humi1ity

    The sad truth is that you probably gain nothing by rooting for the team playing ND in the championship game. Some players on that team have most likely committed offenses that are just as egregious.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jim.tave Jim Tave

      You’re an idiot.

      • humi1ity

        Thanks for the insight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leah.m.inman Leah May

    I’m sad about all these comments belittling the life and death of Seeburg. When it comes down to it, football is just a game, whereas Seeburg was a person. What you are doing by categorizing Seeburg’s experience as an “unwanted grope” or “regretted sex” is beyond distasteful. Stop passing judgements on this woman and start questioning your willingness to justify sexual assault in order to see your team win.

    • So easy to blame…

      Please, unless you know something about what happened, then please stop making claims about anyone doing anything as preposterous as raping someone and then covering it up in order to win a football game.

      • JBQ21

        There are factual charges of textring from someone who identified himself as an ND football player threatening Lizzy with retaliation. I would say that the slug was a “gang slug” recruited by B. Kelly. Kelly needs that ethnic Chicago group of Obama sanctioned athletes. ND and Jenkins sold out to win. Now, we have a dead girl on our hands and blood in the stool of Brian Kelly and John Jenkins. Airheads like you are only pinheads on the road to the national champlionship. As a former ND fan who rejected ND with the Obama invite on campus, Alabama was only an agent of God to remind ND about its obligation to espouse Catholic values. Hesburgh started the “road to perdition” and Jenkins changed the road into a four lane superhighway.

  • AugustWest

    I am not defending Notre Dame’s actions with respect to the Seeburg incident, but this article is yellow journalism. Perhaps Notre Dame has compromised its principles by amending the disciplinary procedure for football players but the appropriate analysis for an outside journalist should be a comparison with other schools. How do the disciplinary procedures stack up against other schools? To put Notre Dame in the company of Penn State is unconscionable, sloppy, and irresponsible.

  • AugustWest

    “She also reports that Lizzy was “both politically and personally conservative, a brand new member of the College Republicans who led her parish youth group and spoke openly about saving herself for marriage.” ”

    Can someone please explain to me why this is relevant? Perhaps if she was a liberal Democrat it means that she was a slut who deserved it? Thanks for the “update”

  • BRT

    Ah Catholicism…. what a stain on humanity that all religions are.

  • Eville Harps

    Notre Dame’s shameful conduct in the relaxing of student life rules for athletes and the cold hearted response to Lizzy Seeburg’s death should come as no surprise to anyone. The faith based university is steeped in the same brew that fosters the age old tradition of the Catholic Church covering up child sexual abuse by priests. Rah rah for the football team that represents such a historically despicable record of institutional immorality and victimization of the powerless.

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  • Amy Walker

    Penn State 2.0

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  • camp50

    Anyone looking for a pattern of deplorable behavior at Notre Dame need only couple the case of Ms. Seeburg with that of Declan Sullivan. A student videographer earning a few minimum wage dollars, Mr. Sullivan was compelled by the football staff to film a practice from atop a scissor lift in high winds, winds that exceeded the safety standard of the lift by at least 20 mph.. The poor kid actually predicted his own death which occurred when the lift blew over. What did the Notre Dame Family do? Circle the wagons. To date, no one has even been fired. The reaction of his family however has been simply remarkable by comparison.

    • Josh

      I don’t know about you, but if I’m in a treacherous situation and I fear for my life, I don’t tweet about it, I get myself out of the treacherous situation. I don’t need anybody’s permission to act in my own best interest.

  • Michael Shane Gore

    prince shembo is said to be the rapist. Not sure if it’s true. Shame a Catholic school would sell their souls for their fb team.

  • Josh

    Actually, it seems to me that the accused player is still playing because he was never even arrested, let alone charged with anything. Just being accused of something doesn’t make one guilty. That is why our judicial system mandates that people are innocent until proven guilty. It’s terrible that Lizzy ended her life, but had she not done so, perhaps she would have seen the alleged offender brought to justice. May she rest in peace, and may God bring peace to her family.

  • Larry

    For the Defense!

    She was a depressive & was on a very dangerous drug Effexnor. This drug was not properly researched before it was released to the public. The doctor doing the research has been removed. The drug had suicide affects on patients. She was drinking on the night of the alleged sexual assault & went to his room.

    All a young man has to do is feel the breasts of the young girl & he can be charged with assault.

    “Update: Melinda Henneberger, a political writer for The Washington Post, details Seeburg’s sexual assault case, and notes that there have been other unreported cases involving Notre Dame football players both before and after Seeburg’s death. She also reports that Lizzy was “both politically and personally conservative, a brand new member of the College Republicans who led her parish youth group and spoke openly about saving herself for marriage.” It’s a long, disturbing read that details the culture of stigmatizing the victim and discouraging young women from coming forward”.

    GOING INTO THE BEDROOM OF A YOUNG MAN, UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL & DRUGS IS NOT THE WAY TO ACT IF SHE WAS “saving herself for marriage”.

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  • JBQ21

    Very good article filled with factual information. Well done! Nice remembrance of Lizzy Seeburg who graduated from St. Mary’s. My aunt was an army murse in England during WWII. She too was a graduate of St. Mary’s. Semper Fi.

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