Two weeks ago, my baby sister began life as a college freshman. Like every overprotective big brother, I'm half-excited and half-terrified. She attends St. Mary's College at Notre Dame. This weekend she called, alarmed at an image on ESPN's College Game Day which taunted the late Lizzy Seeberg -- a young St. Mary's student who had taken her own life amidst a sexual assault charge against a Notre Dame football player in 2010. Saint Mary's remains deeply hurt by this tragedy, and seeing this sign certainly aggravated that pain.
Watching a man brandish this sign on national television, which seemed to mock a victim of sexual assault and suicide, tested my faith in humanity. Despite reports after that his spectacle was intended to commemorate the victim's life and hold those responsible for her assault accountable, I remain troubled by what I saw and what was left unsaid. The sign's author failed to appreciate that his words represented a real girl, who tragically left behind a family and friends. Ms. Seeberg was a college freshman, a member of her church, a volunteer, and a daughter, sister and friend. Like the 38,000 victims of suicide in the U.S. annually, Ms. Seeberg was taken from us too soon. Her death remains an open wound, which this man exploited in front of millions with the help of a complicit ESPN.
The sign-writer defended himself claiming he wished to draw attention to the fact that the alleged sexual assault and harassment of the victim were unconscionable. He aptly states that the investigation and failure to punish the assailant is worthy of our ire. I can appreciate that his intention was to shock the large national audience to draw attention to the fact that sexual assault and student well-being must be a priority at all colleges, including Notre Dame. However, in actuality this sign further victimized Lizzy Seeberg's legacy. Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame administration didn't feel a knife to the gut when that sign was featured prominently on live television; the girls of Saint Mary's, the victim's friends and family, and all victims of sexual assault suffered re-injury.
What disappoints me nearly as much is the silence from ESPN and news outlets throughout the lifecycle of this story. ESPN -- with an audience of millions and the social media aptitude to know this was trending -- has yet to issue an apology. This weekend provided an opportunity to make a small statement on an important topic, which could result in a large social impact. Producers could have acknowledged the sign and used it to raise awareness with a simple: "We deeply regret that a sign many found hurtful and offensive was seen on College Game Day. We do not condone any signs on air, and this sign specifically caused pain and suffering to victims of sexual assault and families and friends dealing with suicide. If you are a victim of sexual assault please call Rape Abuse Incest National Network at (800) 656-4673. And, if you are ever feeling hopeless or contemplating suicide, please contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255." ESPN missed this opportunity.
In a sad but important coincidence, Tuesday -- September 10 -- was National Suicide Prevention Day. Again, I implore ESPN to use their megaphone for only a few moments to promote suicide prevention awareness - across cable, radio, online and social media channels. And, I hope ESPN considers doing something even more. Perhaps College Game Day and ESPN could produce two documentaries: one on sexual assault and one on suicide: a "Special Edition 30 for 30," which uses sports to tell stories that raise awareness for these important causes.
Listening to the fan's volume during Saturday's game, I cannot help but imagine the lives we could save if our cheers supported to those in crisis. Watching fans scream, I cannot help but wonder what we are capable of accomplishing for sexual assault victims everywhere, if our shouts are directed at seeking justice.
The sheer power we could harness if the fans in The Big House joined forces with the Fighting Irish, Saint Mary's Belles and the millions of TV viewers on College Game Day to make the world a better place. That is the legacy that Lizzy Seeberg deserves.