How Notre Dame Benefits from the Manti Te’o Girlfriend Hoax

Amazing, isn’t it, the kind of attention this Manti Te’o dead girlfriend hoax is grabbing?

As the details pile up, it does appear that the celebrated linebacker was at least complicit in the storytelling, demonstrating a penchant for sentimentality and “faith-promoting” embellishment that has some context in Mormon culture.

But who’s benefiting from the Lennay Kekua story now? Not Manti Te’o.

One only need follow a trail of excellent reporting by the Washington Post’s Melinda Henneberger (herself a Notre Dame alum) to realize it’s a shame to be paying more attention to the fake Kekua than it is to the real Lizzy Seeberg, a college freshman who committed suicide after she alleged sexual assault against a Notre Dame football player.

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter last spring, Henneberger made a powerful case for a pattern of sexual assault against women condoned by Notre Dame University.

And there are other football-connected student deaths that have led for calls to shut the program down.

Next to the callous attitude toward sexual assault reporters like Henneberger have identified at Notre Dame, the Manti Te’o dead girlfriend hoax does in fact look like a fairy tale—and its curiously irresistible appeal provides the perfect distraction from the really serious questions surrounding the football program and its leadership.

Is Mormon yarn-spinning a cover for Catholic institutional tolerance for sexual abuse and misogyny?

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.