By Brian Hanley-
(CBS) It seems silence is more golden than the dome down in South Bend, Ind.
At least when it comes to anything that might tarnish the image of football at Notre Dame.
Coach Brian Kelly said last week the university never “threatened” Prince Shembo, his then-player, to be silent after an alleged sexual attack against Lizzy Seeberg, a Saint Mary’s College student who later committed suicide.
Shembo, however, told media members at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis recently that the school told him not to speak on the matter, which the Seeberg family says was a mishandled university investigation.
The Chicago Tribune in November 2010 reported that campus authorities didn’t initially tell county police about Seeberg’s report of a sexual attack, nor did campus police refer the case to the county’s special victims unit, which was established to handle sex offenses.
Seeberg, who battled depression and an anxiety disorder, described her account of what happened Aug. 31, 2010, in a typed statement she gave to campus police. On Sept. 2, she received a text message from one of Shembo’s friends: “Don’t do anything you would regret. Messing with notre dame football is a bad idea.”
She killed herself Sept. 10, 2010, overdosing on prescription medication.
Shembo was never charged with a crime, and his name was not publicized, though his alleged involvement was known to many media members at the time. He said he did nothing wrong, had “nothing to hide” and that he stayed silent about the accusations under orders from Kelly.
Kelly said the decision to advise Shembo to be silent was a “collaborative” one among university officials because, based on information they had, “It was a matter that be left alone at the time.”
The time, of course, was the ever sacrosanct football season. That time of year at Notre Dame — as at any campus where football rings cash registers — is when even the most minute of distractions are to be avoided. Which is also why Kelly and many of those same university officials stayed silent for weeks in late 2013 after they knew Manti Te’o’s touching tale of virtual love lost was complete fraud.
Who needed the major distraction of retraction of the team-rallying Te’o dead girlfriend story when Notre Dame had a championship game for which to prepare?
So captain T’eo and his tale of woe was written and talked about in media right up to the time Alabama really made Irish fans cry.
Still, Kelly insisted, even after the very real death of Seeberg, Shembo could have chosen to talk.
“We made a decision based upon the information we had,” Kelly said at a news conference to discuss the start of spring practice. “We felt it was in Prince’s best interest that this was not a matter that needed to be discussed. But that was certainly something he could have decided to discuss. We didn’t threaten him with he couldn’t play, or we were going to put him on the bench, or we were going to throw him out of school. It was still his decision.”
Joe Power, Shembo’s lawyer, told the Tribune that any suggestion that Notre Dame conducted a superficial investigation because it involved a star football player was unfair and inaccurate.
“It’s not like he was a Heisman Trophy candidate,” Power said. “He had not even played in his first game yet.”
Had Shembo broken the golden rule in sports — Don’t defy the coach! — he may be still waiting to play that first game at Notre Dame.
Brian Hanley is the co-host of the Mully and Hanley Show on 670 The Score from 5 a.m.-9 a.m. on weekdays.