The XX Factor

A Tale of Two Dead Girls and Notre Dame Football

Could a Notre Dame football player do anything worse than make up a dead girlfriend? Yes.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Notre Dame’s football team had the ghosts of two dead young women following it this past season. One of the women was an inspiration to us all, selfless as she lay dying from her terminal illness, her only wish for her football hero boyfriend being that he live a full life and not miss a game for her funeral. The other woman, however, was a troublemaker, who died of suicide after trying and failing to get Notre Dame to take her accusations of sexual assault against a football player seriously. Now we all know: Only one of these women was real.

The perfect girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed. And “her” “boyfriend” Manti Te’o—the Notre Dame linebacker who wowed the sports world by racking up 12 tackles in an upset against Michigan State mere days after the devastating loss of his beloved Kekua to leukemia—is not the hero we thought he was. Te’o is currently denying that he was in on the hoax, despite claiming to have met Kekua in person. We’ll find out the truth soon enough, but regardless, the heart-warming story of a woman whose dying thoughts are not of her lost future but of her man’s bright one was as real as the characters in the movies that tell the same fake story. 

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Lizzy Seeberg was a real person and she really did kill herself in 2011, at age 19, after accusing a football player of sexual assault. In December, Melinda Henneberger explained what happened: 

Yet after Lizzy went to the police, a friend of the player’s sent her a series of texts that frightened her as much as anything that had happened in the player’s dorm room. “Don’t do anything you would regret,” one of them said. “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”

At the time of her death, 10 days after reporting the attack to campus police, who have jurisdiction for even the most serious crimes on school property, investigators still had not interviewed the accused. It took them five more days after she died to get around to that, though they investigated Lizzy herself quite thoroughly, even debriefing a former roommate at another school with whom she’d clashed.

With the alleged victim unable to speak for herself any longer, it comes as no surprise that once the player was actually questioned, he was swiftly cleared and didn’t even have to sit out a game. Another alleged rape happened shortly thereafter, but wasn’t reported by the victim (Henneberger learned about it from a resident advisor), which seems like the only rational decision under the circumstances.

Te’o’s story has been all over the news today—and with good reason. It’s nuts. But what’s also nuts is that the story of Lennay Kekua—the dead girl who never lived—is a bigger deal (3.1 million-plus views on Deadspin and counting) than the story of Lizzy Seeberg, whose real life ended in real tragedy (44K for this Deadspin post).

As Dave Zirin reports, Notre Dame has already scheduled press conferences and hired an outside investigator to deal with the Te’o situation, two things that never happened for Seeberg. Beautiful, selfless, perfect woman does not exist? Now that’s a story. The horrors faced by women trying to find justice for sexual violence? Sorry, ladies, that’s just boring old everyday life.