On Saturday morning there was one sign visible on College GameDay that stood out from the usual fare of good-natured ribbing and outraged a lot of folks online. It read, simply, "Hi Lizzy Seeberg." The reaction was unanimous. "Stay classy, Michigan" and "subhuman" were among the responses. Later in the day, I received an email from a reader who claimed to be the person holding the Lizzy Seeberg sign.
In it, he said he wrote something up that was "kind of long, and mostly activist-based, but it explains every reason for the sign." I said send it along and 30 minutes later I had the explanation. It wasn't kind of long; it was just long. He had a point, mostly, at least when he wasn't laboring under the insufferable and apparently widespread delusion that Michigan football exists on a higher moral plane ("to quote Bo Schembechler ..."). And if the email at times reads like the work of a committed Notre Dame hater who'd found a conveniently virtuous reason for hating Notre Dame, the underlying sentiment is a good one: Don't forget what happened to Lizzy Seeberg.
His letter is below, everything [sic].
Last year, a shocking story involving the Notre Dame football team surfaced. It instantly got addressed in an impromptu press conference by the school's athletic director, that very night. The story ended up going around the world, despite it not even being an issue. That story, of course, is Manti Teo's fake girlfriend. Teo's fake girlfriend became a defining part of the college football season, and is still talked about and joked about. Still. To this day. Despite him not being on the team.
At the same time, another story was resurfacing, one that has been dismissed for years - the story of Lizzy Seeberg.
In the fall of 2010, Lizzy, a freshman at Saint Mary's (a small college that is literally across the street from Notre Dame), committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. Furthermore, she received a series of intimidating texts directly after the incident, and was constantly rebuffed by any Notre Dame administrator. Not only was the player in question not questioned himself, but the school went out of their way to investigate Lizzy for the purposes of making her (who, at this point, was dead) into the real problem.
Never mind that Lizzy was one of the most passionate volunteers at her Catholic high school. And never mind that the player in question had prior incidents that should kept him off Notre Dame's radar.
It took three months for the story to even come out, in a Chicago Tribune article. Note that Notre Dame refused the publicly acknowledge the case at the time.
In March of 2012, the National Catholic Reporter picked up the story. Melinda Henneberger, a Notre Dame alum, described the incident in question, and the aftermath. That aftermath included how many other women experienced similar assaults in the past, and how most went unreported. For those that did include someone speaking out, the school's investigation was designed to smear the accuser, in a pattern that stretched back decades.
The player's attorney, Joe Power, not only goes on to slander Seeberg, but also accuses anyone following the case of being a racist. Because the player in question is black. Seriously.
The rest of the story paints the picture of a school so concerned with its own image that it refuses to fix a systemic culture of sexual assault. To quote the article, on a prominent female ND alum:
"(Ann Therese) Palmer, an attorney and financial writer who was in the first class of women at Notre Dame in 1972, loves our alma mater as much as anyone I know. So much so, in fact, that she edited a 2007 book, Thanking Father Ted: Thirty-five Years of Notre Dame Coeducation, the proceeds of which fund scholarships in honor of Hesburgh, whom she calls "the Boss" and takes to lunch on his birthday every year.
Recently, though, so many daughters of her Notre Dame friends have been raped on campus that she's concluded she needs to warn women who are thinking of attending."
This is unacceptable. Not just unacceptable in the eyes of college football fans, or whatever, but unacceptable in the eyes of society. Notre Dame is better than this. We, as a people, are better than this.
But hey, it isn't just a systemic culture of sexual assault that puts Notre Dame in a bad light. It's also the culture of dismissal and denial that pervades this university.
Again, from the article. This portion concerns Notre Dame's response to Lizzy, her father, and the author, over the course of three separate incidents:
"Her confessor on campus stopped speaking to her, she said, and another priest snapped at her when she approached him after Mass. "Father, what do I do now?" she asked, days after learning the outcome of the hearing. It was a pastoral question, not a legal one. But his outraged response, she says, was: "How dare you blind-side me here!" Interesting he should put it that way, her father noted, since "they don't know it, but you did hit their blind side, and they're going to protect it at all costs." The resident assistant's father has tried repeatedly, he said, to persuade Jenkins to consider a more serious and spiritual response, but "he was so unwilling to open the box of ugliness."
The same week the resident assistant drove her friend to the hospital, I attended a Mass (ND President John) Jenkins (said before the annual pro-life march in Washington. In his homily that day, he spoke about the moral courage required to protect the most vulnerable among us in an indifferent world. Inspiring stuff, really, so I waited to be the last to speak to him on the church steps, and asked him to help me understand why he had refused to meet with the Seebergs, or offer them so much as an "I'm sorry for your loss." His answer was off-the-record, but anyone walking by could have seen a man in a collar shaking with anger, and the tears in his eyes were most certainly not for Lizzy. I'm pretty sure I blind-sided him."
Nothing from Notre Dame. No compassion. No sympathy. Nothing but rejection, in all three circumstances. Once again, this is unacceptable. We should not stand for this, regardless of whatever group we fall into. Notre Dame fans, fans of other schools, even just people that live in a society where everyone can agree this is wrong.
Notre Dame, since day one, has spent a lot of time covering this up. From the non-statements of a priest, to the anger of President Jenkins, Notre Dame hasn't officially said anything.
Unofficially, of course, we do have those threatening texts from a friend of the accused player! Let's look at one of them, saved by Lizzy's parents on her phone.
"Don't do anything you would regret.
Messing with notre dame football is a bad idea"
Thanks for that, unidentified friend. Nothing says open honesty in regards to a situation quite like sending a text like that to a girl who had just been assaulted.
Which, after all of that, brings me to the topic of the day - that HI LIZZY SEEBERG sign on College Gameday. In short, it was done to show that she isn't forgotten, and that people do know and care about her story. Even if her school refuses to acknowledge it, there are some people out there who do.
But it's also about more than that. It's about taking a stand against something that's wrong, from a position uniquely suited to take that stand on.
First off, I'm a Christian, and one doing the exact kinds of things Lizzy would want to be doing now, but in the Detroit area. Through with my church, I'm volunteering in the city of Detroit, in the most dangerous zip codes in the country. I'm down there, working with kids that are not as fortunate as I am, with hundreds of peers around my age. It's making a significant impact in the city, in so many different ways. For example, we literally just built a house in six days for a single mother and her kids, and refurbished the 50 blocks that surround it.
Turns out, in the more that I read about Lizzy last season, she would have been doing the same kinds of things in my group. According to another NCR article...
Her father recalls Lizzy, then a junior at suburban Glenbrook North High School, recognizing the opportunities she was given growing up on the North Shore.
"She said to me, 'What does it mean that I wake up every day without even thinking about my safety, without even thinking about my home life, without thinking about getting an education, and 25 miles away, these kids don't have that? How does that add up?' " Seeberg recalled about his daughter. "Her next question for me was, 'Well, what are we going to do about this?' "
What are we going to do about this, everyone? Are we going to get angry that someone invoked a name that uncovers something shameful, or are we going to fix the problem. There's a lot of us out there trying to do the latter. There's problems to be fixed everywhere, and so many of my generation wants to go after those tough issues.
(And by the way, when I talk about this, I'm not trying to beat you over the head with religion. You don't have to be religious to be able to make the world a better place, and I'm not trying to indirectly judge those who don't share my faith in any way by mentioning this. For that matter, I'm a non-denominational Christian with Baptist roots, Lizzy was Catholic, so our faiths don't even completely match up.)
After Lizzy died, her family and friends raised money to build a house in Chicago, one that would house Catholic missionaries that are serving as mentors to neighborhood kids in various ways.
Lizzy's father, Tom, described the school as "a bold statement of 'we're here.'"
There's no better way to describe what I was hoping to accomplish today. We're here, Notre Dame. The story is out, and there's plenty of people who know about it and want change. You can't run forever.
Which brings me to the second reason why I decided to hold up that sign.
This is Michigan. Some might call Michigan arrogant, some might hate on us for having higher standards that most. But this is Michigan, that Notre Dame is coming into tonight.
This is a school that values its standards to the point that a new coach, Rich Rodriguez, was (unfairly) run out of town for even appearing to violate these standards. This is a school with protests against Nike when they outfitted Michigan teams in 2001, with protests for tuition equality today, and has an actual digital exhibit on 1960's student protests. Heck, even last week, a bunch of the Michigan fanbase got the school to take out a giant Kraft noodle from Michigan Stadium. (We don't have advertising like that in the Big House.) We have high standards. It's a big part of who we are, and who we seek to be.
Even the mission statement of the University of Michigan reads: "The mission of the University of Michigan is to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future."
This is Michigan. Things are not taken lying down. The major storyline around tonight's game is on how Notre Dame is backing out of this rivalry, how this is the last matchup in Ann Arbor, and how Brady Hoke called Notre Dame "chickens" for not playing us.
Which, again, brings me back to that sign. We don't accept this kind of thing at Michigan. We stand up for what's right.
Notre Dame isn't just chicken in not playing Michigan. Notre Dame is, among other things, chicken for not having the spine to even say anything to the family of a girl while they have her blood on their hands. Notre Dame, in all facets, is chicken.
And, on Notre Dame's last visit to Ann Arbor, it's time to stand up to them. We, at Michigan, will never have a chance to say anything to this disgraceful farce of a university again, after today. So, I did. Because that is the right thing to do. Because that's what being a Michigan man is all about, doing the right thing.
To quote Bo Schembechler: “I do not believe in sitting on a problem. Because the longer you sit on that thing, the longer it'll irritate you. If you're keeping it to yourself, there's nothing the guy you're mad at can do to fix it, either, because you haven't told him why you're mad.”
We don't sit on problems at Michigan. We address them. And if someone wants to come into our house, with the glaring arrogance of Notre Dame, those problems will be addressed. Because once again, this is Michigan.
Again, from Coach Schembechler: “You don't treat the so-called little people poorly, because we don't have any little people here! The trainers, the managers, the secretaries, the people who work in the dorms and cafeterias and classroom buildings are all professionals, and they're all important or they wouldn't be working for Michigan football.”
Everyone is important, Notre Dame. Everyone has value, Notre Dame. You don't treat a victim this way, or her family this way, Notre Dame. And if you don't, you will be called out on it. Because you're at Michigan.
Some Notre Dame fans are disenchanted with the football team, after incidents like Lizzy's. Those fans include scores of female alums, not to mention the Seeberg family. In a Washington Post piece, Henneberger talks about how she's affected by these events.
"My husband says he continues to be amazed by the depths of my disillusionment; had I really thought they were so much better than this? You bet I did; in fact, Notre Dame isn’t Notre Dame if it isn’t, which might explain why school officials maintain to this day that they’ve done nothing wrong, have never besmirched Miss Seeberg’s memory, and have no idea how so many fans think they know so much about her."
And the family:
"Though 13 Seebergs went to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s before Lizzy, her family is sitting this season out, of course. Yet in their Chicago suburb, football fever runs so high that they, too, regularly field queries from friends about whether they’re excited for the Irish.
“We just say ‘No, not too excited, really not a big fan any longer,’ ” says Lizzy’s father, Tom Seeberg, who’s remarkably indifferent to the team’s success: “When tragedy rocks you to your core, all the little stuff is stripped away.”"
This is Michigan. We do things, as repeated so often, as a team. We take care of everyone whenever possible, we do what's right. If that leads to slightly higher standards that affect us on the field, so be it. But we're going to do things the right way, and we're going to do it as a team.
Yes, problems may always occur. There might always be some brushes with the law, some rules broken. But those incidents will get handled, addressed, and resolved. And we will move on, improved as a result, improved together.
Sometime soon, Michigan's going to win a national championship. Michigan's going to win some Big Ten championships too. And we're going to do it as a team. We're going to do it the right way. Despite all the complaining over things like a general admission student section, and alternate jerseys, we're going to do things as a team. A team on the field, a team in the campus, and a team in the community. And when that day comes, whether it's this year, next year, or after that, all of Michigan will be proud and happy for the team. That's something tonight's opponents cannot say.
If anyone, from any fanbase, should have said something, it's Michigan's fanbase. And something was said.
If anyone is strongly impacted by Lizzy's story, I encourage you to give back in her memory. The house bought and run in her name is up and running, I'm sure a donation would be used wisely. Same with her school's legacy fund in her name. Make a difference. Personally, I'm giving $25 - the cost of a Michigan/Notre Dame gameday t-shirt.
At the end of the day, here's the command painted on the wall of Lizzy's House in Chicago, the reason why they are there: "to help others in need and not to stay passive."
Follow through on it, college football fans.