Manti Te’o & Loyal Sons and Daughters

Notre Dame is something that is consumed in the extreme. Either you’re a life long fan, a Domer, or are actually Irish (or all of the above) … OR you cannot stand them, and hate every single thing you’ve ever known about them, especially football. As it says on an article in the “Troll Notre Dame” section of, “Yes, there is no higher merriment in college football than making fun of Notre Dame.” (Tom Scocca) Absolutely anything those people can find about Notre Dame they will jump on the hater wagon for, and as a university that gets a lot of publicity from the national media when things happen, it can feel like Notre Dame gets criticized for every little thing.

But let’s not pretend the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax was a little thing.

Not surprisingly, most  Notre Dame students were on Facebook or Twitter when they found out about DeadSpin’s famous story claiming Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend was a hoax. That one article was a good example of how one good story can rock the internet and social media is no time flat. You couldn’t go anywhere on campus without hearing people talking about it.

So once again, Notre Dame is absolutely everywhere in the media as the story unfolded and the truth came out, perhaps blown out of proportion due to Te’o’s fame and the absolutely shock and bizarreness of the truth. A big story puts Notre Dame in the news again (a story outside of coverage of the football team, that is), and of course there is controversy.

Something even more important than the coverage is how people responded to it, what they believed based on the facts they saw, how they felt about it. Facebook and Twitter are perfect ways to see that. News is no longer just presented to us, but is ours to publicly comment on and spread.

South Bend Tribune/ROBERT FRANKLIN

What concerns me is how Notre Dame students might not have reacted. I’m not concerned that students are supporting Te’o as they have all season in the face of tragedy. It’s great that students would rally behind someone a player in a time of tragedy, embarrassment, or need.

My first thought on seeing the article was “This can’t be true.”

That was my initial thought on seeing the headline, because it seemed so ridiculous. But as I read the convincing research DeadSpin presented, I realized this was likely true and pretty serious. “This can’t be true” then applied to the idea that Te’o had some part of this hoax. Manti is such a great guy, how is it even possible he would do such a thing? Before the press conference, the biggest issue seemed to be if Manti really lied to the world or not. I’m guessing other people might have had that gut reaction like I did, even if it mellowed into “I hope this isn’t true…” after some thought.

But is that first defensive thought, defending the University or defending the football player in light of some condemning facts, a good thing?

As I said, there’s no doubt about it that Notre Dame has passionately loyal fans of University, and the students are surely in that category. But is that blind faith in defending her a positive quality or a tragic flaw?

Take the Declan Sullivan or Lizzy Seeberg cases, two students that died while at the university. The death of a student is going to be a big story on campus, of course, but came to national attention when Notre Dame started being criticized for having a part in the deaths (more by lack of action) of these students and the deaths being related to football somehow.

Again, I’ll admit my first instinct was to go to “It wasn’t Notre Dame/Brian Kelly’s/the Athletic Dept/Declan’s boss’s fault that Declan died” just as I thought “It couldn’t have been just the sexual assault that made Lizzy decide to kill herself.” Of course my rationalizations and excuses for why I thought this things came later, and it’s not like an argument can’t be made for that stance. But that first gut instinct definitely colored how I received the news and the facts presented about the cases.

Notre Dame has been criticized for this too in a set of articles in the aftershock of the Te’o story: why were there tears shed by a university official over Manti being “catfished” over his internet girlfriend but not for Lizzy Seeberg, who not only died but may have been sexually assaulted by another student. And while there are a lot of things that are involved with such an allegation (ND’s discipline policy, Title IX, collecting evidence, etc.), Swarbrick standing up to defend Manti does seem to prove what Lizzy’s friend told her in a text, “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.” It seems always being on the university’s side could be the wrong thing to do and doesn’t hold them accountable to criticism or problems.

So again I post the question: Is that blind loyalty to Notre Dame always a good thing?


6 thoughts on “Manti Te’o & Loyal Sons and Daughters

  1. Quick question – how does Title IX fit into the allegations of sexual assault in the Seeberg case?

    • Great question! I’m not sure what details you know about Title IX, but it prohibits all gender discrimination in all activities and programs at a university. When a sexual assault is reported to a university official, under federal law the university is required to share the information with appropriate University authorities for investigation and follow up.

      “An administrative investigation under Title IX must be initiated if the University has enough information to reasonably determine key facts, e.g., time, date, location and names of parties involved in an alleged incident.” (from duLac)

      It’s a very detailed and specific process to go through, and as an RA in hall staff training we had a Title IX representative explain what we needed to know about the process to us so we could help any student who was going through it. I mentioned it because in addition to a rape victim’s ability to take University action and law action against another student simultaneously in the case of rape, a Title IX investigation is another level in what is already an extensive process, and I don’t think everyone who passes judgement on the incident is aware of that. Again I’m not an expert but there may very well be parts of the investigation that legally are not allowed to be released to the public.

      Which back to my point, is a lot more complex and sensitive than the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax.

      Sorry for the long winded answer, hopefully I paraphrased correctly, here are the links to info Title IX and the DuLac Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault Policy, both of which describe Title IX’s role.

  2. Clara Ritger says:

    I am really glad you don’t shy away from tying Lizzy Seeberg and Declan Sullivan into the Manti story. I think the Notre Dame fans who argue it’s a “low blow” are kidding themselves. Penn State gets classified right along with us. Granted, worse things happened there, but our problems and theirs are the result of too much acceptance at what is told face value by the football program to the community.

  3. Kaylin says:

    Great entry, Claire! To your last question, I would offer that blind loyalty is almost never a good thing, as it allows one to look past significant fissures that eventually lead to bigger problems. History of fascist states proves this, as does the tragic examples of late of scandal in ND & Penn State’s football programs. Granted, in both cases it was individual decisions that cannot fully reflect upon the programs, but more broadly it’s the media’s treatment of these programs that exemplifies the gaps in the ways of examining football. Attention is always given to scandal, but rarely to the deeper problems that arise when programs feel elevated above others, no longer accountable to standard codes of moral & professional conduct. Yet their false sense of heightened status is maintained by the public’s treatment of them as celebrities. If we have a problem with football stars acting like they’re above the law, we should stop awing after them as if they are.

  4. Marisa I. says:

    Thanks for being brave enough to raise this issue, Claire. It’s hard not to rush into a judgment on the topic, whether that judgment be blind hatred of Notre Dame that causes someone to jump to unfair conclusions, or blind obsession with Notre Dame that causes him to defend his school when it is wrong. One thing I try to remember is the difference between loyalty and believing something is perfect. I am loyal to Notre Dame, but I am willing to acknowledge its mistakes and failings. I think that sort of attitude is the first step to addressing issues like the ones that you raise.

  5. Josh says:

    Nice job, Claire. Here’s my question, which I think gets at the heart of what you are addressing: If you’re a journalist, how does one’s loyalty to a school or football program or even a player affect one’s reporting? And of course that question is not only applicable to sports scenarios. It’s there in politics; it’s their in arts and entertainment; it’s there in city zoning board meetings. Should journalists not have any interests in anything ever? Or should they not report on subjects they are personally attached to or moved by? But then, isn’t that intimate connection an aide to one’s understanding and ability to explain an event?

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