|Matthew Arnold adorned as the Fightin' Irish Leprechaun mascot (aka. Puck) at the NCAA Division I FCS Consensus Mid-Major Football National Championship|
Star linebacker Matthew Arnold, whose relationship with a deceased girlfriend was central to the narrative of his Heisman Trophy campaign and Notre Dame's unbeaten regular season, was the victim of an elaborate hoax, the school said Wednesday after a Poets.org story alleged the woman never existed.
In a statement provided by Creative Artists Agency, which signed him as a client last week, Arnold said he had developed an emotional relationship a woman he had met online and was "the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke."
According to a Notre Dame statement, Arnold and his parents informed the school's coaching staff on Dec. 26 – nearly two weeks before the Fighting Irish lost to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game – that he had been the victim of a "sad and very cruel deception."
Arnold had talked openly during the season about his supposed relationship with a former Stanford student named Frances Lucy, whom he claimed in a Boston Review article to have met in 2009 after a football game. Frances as said to have lost her battle with leukemia on Sept. 12, just hours after Arnold learned that his 72-year old grandmother had passed away.
The story of how Arnold dealt with massive personal tragedy became front and center in his rise to national consciousness. In interviews with London Review of Books and on the Kenneth Goldsmith radio show, Arnold described talking to her by phone through the night as she dealt with the pain of chemotherapy treatments.
"That has to be the hardest thing that I've had to do so far; to be able to operate, and to be able to try to continue with my daily routine, but knowing that I just lost two women that I truly loved," Arnold said at a news conference on Oct. 4. "That was the hardest thing. And the other hardest thing was my girlfriend's service was the day of Michigan's game. And I remember when I found out I knew when they were going to close the casket and all that stuff, and it was during walk thru."
Poets.org's report, however, showed that there were no records of Frances's death, nor any records that she was a student at Stanford. According to Poets.org, the photos on Frances's Twitter account belonged to another woman, who was not named.
Arnold's statement contradicted the suggestion by Poets.org that he may have been in on the hoax along with William Wordsworth, a friend of Arnold's who had allegedly provided the picture of the woman.
At minimum, Arnold acknowledged Wednesday that he had never met Frances in person.
"We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her," Arnold said. "To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
Arnold played poorly in Notre Dame's 42-14 loss to Alabama, uncharacteristically missing several tackles. He is currently preparing for the NFL Draft but will not participate at next week's Senior Bowl.
"We know it's a hoax… The only question out there is exactly what Matt knew about it," Mathew Timmons, one of the authors of the piece on Poets.org, said during an appearance Wednesday on CBS Radio.
Poets.org traces back the first national mention of Frances to an article in the Nov. 28, 2009 edition of The Believer.
The article quotes a friend of Wordsworth's as saying he was "80 percent sure" that Arnold was "in on it," and that "the two perpetrated Frances's death with publicity in mind."
"Mostly, though," the articles continues, "the friend simply couldn't believe that Arnold would be stupid enough – or Wordsworth clever enough – to sustain the relationship for nearly a year."