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National Columnist

No charges, no name, just questions remain in Notre Dame tragedy

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Her name is Lizzy Seeberg. His name? We don't know his name. We just know he played football for Notre Dame in 2010 when he was accused of sexually assaulting Seeberg, a freshman at nearby St. Mary's College, in his dorm room. And we know he plays for Notre Dame still, and in fact will play for Notre Dame on Monday night against Alabama in the national championship game.

We know he was never charged with a crime, but I don't know what to make of that.

Because we know Lizzy Seeberg is dead. She killed herself 10 days later in 2010. And although Seeberg spoke to police the day after the incident, after going to a hospital to get checked for assault -- nurses swabbed her upper body for saliva -- charges were never filed. Not without a living victim. According to the local prosecutor, Seeberg's statement to police most likely "would be found inadmissible in a court of law because of evidentiary rules involving hearsay."

Lizzy Seeberg was 19 when she died. He is alive, whoever he is. And on Monday night he will represent Notre Dame as it plays for its first national championship in 24 years.

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And I don't know what to make of that, either.

  

Beware anyone who claims to be certain about the story of St. Mary's freshman Lizzy Seeberg and the Notre Dame player she said assaulted her. You can find such assured people on both sides, saying the player is guilty and the football program is monstrous and Lizzy Seeberg died because of Notre Dame football ... or saying the player is innocent and the football program is blameless and Lizzy Seeberg died for reasons we will never understand.

Which side is right? We don't know. In light of that, some would say the fair thing, the right thing, would be to ignore this story. Don't write about it now, for God's sake. A few days before the BCS title game? These unsubstantiated allegations from Aug. 31, 2010? Not right. Not fair.

But Lizzy Seeberg is dead. That's a fact of which we can be absolutely certain. And if she was in fact assaulted by a man, groped on the breasts by his hands and mouth, well, she would have rights, too. Her memory would demand this story be retold today, and every day that her assailant lives the charmed life of a football player on a football team at a football school like Notre Dame.

The uncertainty is oppressive. It's the uncertainty that will make the title game uncomfortable for lots of us to watch, and yes, I'm including myself in that "us." I'll be there Monday night at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, watching from the press box. For most of the game I'll see football and only football, writing down the play-by-play on my legal pad and swiveling in my chair to watch the occasional replay on a television screen overhead.

But from time to time I'll scan the Notre Dame sideline and wonder which one he is. And whether he did to Lizzy Seeberg what she said he did. He is nobody and he is everybody, because we don't know who he is. And we don't know that he's guilty. Only two people in the world know what happened in his dorm room on Aug. 31, 2010, and one of them is dead. The other will be at Sun Life Stadium on Monday night, wearing one of those shiny gold helmets.

What do you make of that?

  

Notre Dame has waited so long for this game, this moment, this return to greatness. Many had written off the Irish, thinking that a day like Monday was too much to ask of a long-ago Catholic football power that had been weakened by the country's shift from Catholicism, then gutted by NCAA sanctions from the Lou Holtz era, followed by one bad coaching hire after another, from George O'Leary's first few days in 2001 to Charlie Weis' 2-5 finish in 2009.

Notre Dame, undefeated and playing for the national title? Lots of us didn't see this day coming, but it's here. Brian Kelly is a great coach, and he has done great things with this program. What he hasn't done is said much about Lizzy Seeberg, which is his right. There could be litigation to consider, and again, what does he know? He doesn't know. Only two people know what happened in that dorm room, and one of them is, well, you know how that sentence ends.

The story broke on Nov. 21, 2010, in the Chicago Tribune, which had dedicated a number of reporters to Seeberg's accusation and death. The Tribune was facing bankruptcy at the time, and Kelly responded to one inquiry by cracking a joke about the paper's financial plight: "I didn't know you guys could afford all those guys," he said.

A month later, asked again about Seeberg, Kelly was more somber when he said, "A young girl lost her life. I can't imagine how tough that is on the parents." (At 11:45 mark.)

Kelly is a great coach and his roster has great players -- and if you're wondering why I'm not mentioning any of those players by name, it's because I'm trying to be fair. Google won't forget this story. No student's name will appear here, not alongside such phrases as "sexual assault" and "charged" and "Notre Dame football."

No student's name will be written here -- other than Lizzy Seeberg, who walked into a Notre Dame player's room with another couple on Aug. 31, 2010. That couple left. Seeberg stayed. What happened next? We don't know.

But we know about a flurry of text messages, both to and from Lizzy Seeberg, like the one she sent her therapist shortly after leaving the Notre Dame player's room: "Something bad happened," she wrote. We know she spoke to a friend a short time later and was said to be crying so hard, she was almost hyperventilating. We also know Lizzy Seeberg had been diagnosed with depression and with an anxiety disorder that caused her to shy away from attention -- not seek it.

And we know about multiple text messages she received from a friend of the Notre Dame football player, messages she showed police, ominous-sounding messages that told Seeberg things like, "Don't do anything you would regret," and also, "Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea."

And we know that a week later, when Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide, Notre Dame police had yet to interview her accused assailant.

We also know that, in the aftermath of her death, the U.S. Department of Education spent seven months studying the way Notre Dame handles sexual assault cases. After that probe, the school made several changes to its process, most notably speeding up investigations and offering victims the choice of having their complaint handled by university employees or city police.

Would those changes have made a difference to Lizzy Seeberg? We'll never know. But more than two years have passed. Life goes on, though not for Lizzy Seeberg. It goes on for the player she accused -- and Monday night could be one of the greatest days of his life.

I defy anyone to know what to make of that.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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