(The Rock Report) – It is a shame that in the week before Notre Dame plays its most meaningful game in more than a decade that Notre Dame Nation is confronted with a national story that looks to benefit from personal tragedy and “salacionalize” the truth.
After first reading Tim Layden’s Sports Illustrated cover story, Notre Dame Miracle, I walked away with a feeling that, while missing key facts, it had a semblance of balance. Two days later, it’s clear I was duped by a clever structure that masked blatant truth twisting via omission of important points.
One could surmise that these lies of omission were part intent, part laziness, but given the pedigree of the writer and his access, it doesn’t seem likely that Layden was simply outright negligent in gathering his information. A college journalist would be fired for such negligence.
As has been written here many times, there are only three stories in Notre Dame football: The Resurrection, Notre Dame Sold Its Soul and Notre Dame Can’t Win Anymore. Sports Illustrated has managed to profit by peddling this cycle for years. The real magic this time around is that author Tim Layden has accomplished cycles 1 & 2 in concert with each other.
Here’s the structural trick Layden pulled off, while the article is “balanced” in “word count”, that is the number of words devoted to good and seemingly bad about Notre Dame, it is the balance within each passage that has gone wildly askew. Entire passages had little reason for being included other than laying out personal tragedies as dots in a completely disconnected way that the author hopes to lead the reader to connect.
It is a journalistic tact no better than referring to Kim Dunbar as a booster without mentioning the very pertinent fact that she was only deemed a booster because she once paid $25 to go to lunch at ND. “Booster gives trips to players” sells. “Notre Dame football groupie wants to date players,” not so much.
Let’s begin with the entire passage mentioning changes in du Lac and the firing of Bill Kirk framed as “marching downward from the moral high ground.” First off, Layden fails to note that the anomaly has been the past few decades where Notre Dame careened from a caring University that applied du Lac with judgment and understanding to a byzantine enforcer of the rule of law.
That manifested itself in an absurd string of decisions that saw players kicked off campus for the most minor infractions. In protest players like Will Yeatman transferred out of the University completely. That bizzaro enforcement of du Lac contrasted greatly with so many stories of Notre Dame’s past, where priests wouldn’t call the cops, but simply tell kids to go home. One of my favorite stories recounted here was when three students were found by Father Riehle sitting on a couch in the middle of a street. He simply told them to throw the couch in the lake and get home and not do it again.
When Charlie Weis complained about residence life, he was complaining about an unfairness in application and an abdication of the moral responsibility of the University to use judgment. Far from descending from the moral high ground of the last century, Notre Dame simply adjusted back to what had, mostly, always been.
Layden makes no effort to frame the issue correctly nor explore the context around the changes in du Lac and enforcement. I’d actually buy laziness with regard to his account here, but not on his account of the treatment of Michael Floyd.
Layden contrasts the treatment of former players Rashon Powers-Neal and Michael Floyd, but he does so deceivingly.
He correctly reported that Powers-Neal was suspended for a DUI in October of 2005. He then contrasts Powers-Neal treatment with the treatment of Floyd who didn’t miss a game and noted that his punishment was at Kelly’s discretion. It’s here where Layden makes an egregious omission, he inexplicably fails to note whether Floyd was punished at all, what that punishment was and how it related to the time of year.
He left out half the story, the half that would have given the reader context and balance.
Let me help. Floyd’s arrest happened in March and the timing is important. Floyd was suspended for all of Spring and wasn’t reinstated until August and until after he had completed community service, agreed to move back on campus and passed a series of steps to prove that he had committed to change.
Just slipped your mind, Tim? I simply can’t fathom Layden didn’t have facts that were readily available in any newspaper.
One could argue about the balance of that punishment vs. Power-Neal, but that would have watered down Layden’s point to soup. The fact is that Floyd went on to have a error-free final year at Notre Dame and became an example of the use of good judgment and rules used to teach and change behavior rather than rules callously applied as punishment.
One could argue, and I would, that Notre Dame ascended the moral the high ground at that point. Rather than mindlessly applying rules, Notre Dame attempted to instead help the player make changes in his life.
But nothing was worse in the article than including a passage entitled “Winning as Tragedy”, which was simply cover for introducing two tragedies that weren’t, in fact, tied to winning at all.
Including Declan Sullivan’s tragedy as some sort of point of reference in the now loosely hanging thread that Notre Dame was “descending from the moral high ground” was simply irresponsible, but not near as irresponsible as introducing a second tragedy, that of Lizzy Seeberg, a St.Marys student who committed suicide after her allegation that she was inappropriately touched by a Notre Dame player.
Layden plays up the salacious parts of the case, that a friend of the player texted her two days after the incident writing “messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea,” that the case wasn’t turned over to St. Joseph’s County for days, that charges were dropped and that the father was angry and unsatisfied.
Layden’s omissions here are particularly misleading. He fails to mention that Seeburg had a history of psychological problems (including attempted suicide,) that her account didn’t meet with the facts, that the text from the player’s friend wasn’t shown to be anything more than a college kids’ bad judgment, that the assault stemmed from an unwanted hand on a breast, that there was no compelling reason for NDSP, which has the ability to investigate the incident, to notify St. Joseph’s County, and that, as the Duke case taught us, authorities have to be concerned as much about the accused as the accuser.
In other words, as with Floyd, Layden omitted all of the facts that would have given a semblance of balance to his representation of the Seeberg case.
It was a case, as one of our posters wrote, that was doomed from the start.
“Basically, as far as I can tell, the NDSP work was good overall and I fail to see any cover-up by ND administration which is the whole thrust of the Tribune article. Devious and misleading journalism by the Tribune. A truly tragic story for the Seeberg family, however.“
From a story level, Layden failed to connect these topics to his overall point in any meaningful way, except that by including them he not merely implies a connection, he implores the reader to make one. In the end, they were two tragedies and the only ongoing tragedy is that reporters such as Layden would exploit them to sell magazines.
Layden then ends the article, supposedly focused on the resurrection, by implying that Notre Dame’s season was in part due to calls that went Notre Dame’s way. He cites the blown whistle at Stanford without bothering to note that the refs were running in and Notre Dame players stopped playing when their running back was a full half a yard away from the goal line.
He notes the luck Notre Dame had that the refs failed to note the terrible twos on Pittsburgh’s failed field goal attempt that would have given Pittsburgh another shot. Notre Dame did have two players on the field with the number two, a violation, but Layden failed to note that it gave Notre Dame no competitive advantage whatsoever. It’s a sin akin to having a coach on the field. Unless the field goal kicker suddenly saw two twos and lost focus, it had no game impact.
But by ending on that note, he leaves the reader with the distinct impression that the Irish are “getting away with something” … after, of course,”descending from the moral high ground.” It was stupidity masquerading as profundity. Layden’s story attack isn’t even original, it was lifted from from 2006. It was six years ago that I was defending Notre Dame against a similar charge in the South Bend Tribune. (See Deconstructing a Smear Campaign for a good laugh)
While it’s great to see Notre Dame on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it would appear that the subtitle was mislabeled. Notre Dame has ascended to moral high ground that it had abandoned for a short period of time, and it has ascended morally while graduating players off the field, winning on the field and while keeping the number of player incidents far lower than other schools.
Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden on the other hand, descends into blatant manipulation through omission, which is not only a moral breach, but a poor example for aspiring journalists. At least ones with a moral and ethical compass.
Author’s Note: Some may say, “don’t publicize articles that sell sleaze”, an argument I generally agree with. Despite its diminished stature, Sports Illustrated remains a national magazine with a large audience and I’ve found that letting stories like this fester without challenge usually leads to a compounding story effect. For example, David Haugh’s misleading story in the Chicago Tribune was parroted by Layden this time around.Now, let’s beat the crap out of SC. As noted in Remembering Not to Forget there will be more articles written like this one, the University needs to stand strong against these influences lest old lessons need to be relearned.