January 24, 2013 - 8:56pm
BY ELLERY WEIL
For those of you who’ve been living under a rock the past week or so, you might be interested to know that Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o made headlines when it was revealed that his Internet “girlfriend,” who had recently passed away from cancer, was, in fact, entirely fictional. Te’o himself was originally unaware of this, but after discovering “Lennay Kekua” was a hoax, he briefly lied to keep the story going.
It’s a compelling — if not particularly relevant story — and has raised interesting questions about Internet identities and the nature of relationships in an era where people are increasingly spending more time with technology than each other.
The thing that troubles me, though, is that this odd story kicked up a flurry of media coverage and sympathy from the Notre Dame administrators because Manti Te’o has become a nationally recognized name. However, hardly anyone has heard of Lizzy Seeburg.
Two years ago, Seeburg, a freshman at Notre Dame’s sister school, St. Mary’s, went to the police accusing a member of Notre Dame’s football team of sexually assaulting her. She was subsequently harassed and threatened by a friend of the player’s and eventually committed suicide. Notre Dame took weeks to respond to the case, not even interviewing the player until after Seeburg’s death and refused to meet with Seeburg’s family.
What does it say about how our culture treats victims of sexual assault when a fake girls’ death gets more attention than a real one? What does it say when a prestigious school has more to say to the victim of a trick than the victim of a violent crime? Notre Dame has called out the Te’o hoax as “sad” and “cruel,” and don’t get me wrong, it is. Whoever tricked him into caring for this persona, and then led him to believe she had died, played a heartless prank. But lying isn’t illegal; sexual assault is. One of the most outstanding features of the Te’o saga is that nobody actually died. The tragedy of the Lizzy Seeburg story is that someone did.
It’s all well and good to follow the Manti Te’o story, as I expect many of you have. It’s fine to feel sorry for him and to ponder the fake-internet-persona phenomenon of “catfishing.” But while you will undoubtedly hear more from Manti Te’o in days to come, I implore you to take a moment to spare a thought for Lizzy Seeburg.