Reporting Dan Bernstein
There are two reasons why the University of Notre Dame would refuse to answer questions about the latest news of a student death related to its football program.
1. Their secret, internal investigative authorities are in possession of exculpatory evidence that shows the Irish football player is innocent of the alleged sexual attack. They have not disciplined the player identified by Elizabeth Seeberg because they are certain she was lying, or at least mistaken about the perpetrator or the incident.
2. They know they lucked out that the victim killed herself, because nothing now can be pinned on the player who attacked her. The administration, athletic department and team have time and latitude to get their stories straight, stonewall any law-enforcement agencies outside their purview, and wait for it all to go away. They’re betting that some insignificant St. Mary’s student will likely be forgotten, and football will roll on.
A reasonable person can lean toward the latter explanation.
Why? Because the school has forfeited any benefit of the doubt by its shameful handling of the other death, that of videographer Declan Sullivan. Coach Brian Kelly and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick were more concerned with lawyering up than anything else, and it was only after the tide of public pressure rose against them that officials issued a statement admitting the fault that was so obvious to everyone else.
The report in Sunday’s Tribune is the latest description of something darkening in South Bend, as a first-year head coach raises concerns about his fitness to lead at every turn. Kelly’s reaction yesterday to a series of questions was strange and, again, tone deaf.
He felt it wise to make snarky jokes about the number of Trib reporters on the case, and hid behind “university process,” in refusing to account for the continued active status of a player accused of a violent crime on August 31st that led to a woman’s suicide on September 10th.
At some point soon, university president Reverend John Jenkins will again be forced to the forefront to provide answers. With a former federal prosecutor hired by Seeberg’s well-connected family already performing his own investigation, public-relations breathing room will disappear fast. You can bet that Jenkins, trustees and lawyers are considering his words as you read this.
On a larger scale, Notre Dame’s reflexively insular responses to tragedy have been ugly, especially for a place that stakes claim to higher moral ground than other schools. They, of all, should not have to be publicly shamed into taking responsibility for deadly decisions on the practice field or need the truth of criminal investigation of players dragged out of them.
Something is wrong at Notre Dame. The best cure for the infection is sunlight.