You may not like sports.
You may be tired of hearing coworkers and friends talk about the BCS National Championship Game, where the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But there are a few reasons you should care about Notre Dame not winning the national championship this year, reasons that should make you despise this school and everything it stands for as it makes a mockery out of the values it claims to hold dear.
While a fantastic academic organization, Notre Dame is among the universities suing the Obama administration over the birth control mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act. They are so against their employees being able to make healthcare decisions for themselves that they are willing to sue the government (while getting federal money for research and from students attending their school) to stop the insurance companies from paying for birth control for employees.
Not surprisingly, the school itself is no ally to the secular community. But, beyond that, the football program and athletics department have been complacent in abuses committed by both staff and student athletes, resulting in two tragic student deaths that could have been avoided.
In October of 2010, the Midwest was being buffeted by winds exceeding 50 mph. Most sports teams that practice outdoors — including football — took their practices to inside facilities or canceled them outright. Notre Dame, too, did that on a Tuesday. On Thursday, though, under the same conditions (sustained winds about 40 mph and gusts up to 53 mph), Notre Dame’s head football coach Brian Kelly decided that his team couldn’t bear to practice inside. His team was too tough for that, so outside they went.
This all would have been fine, except Kelly’s staff also told a student assistant, Declan Sullivan, to go up on a scissor lift to film practice as usual. Scissor lifts are devices built to withstand no more than 25 mph winds and say so all over them. Sullivan knew the conditions didn’t feel right and sent out two ominous tweets that afternoon:
Less than an hour later, the lift blew over and crashed into the street. Sullivan was taken to the hospital, where he soon died. Meanwhile, Coach Kelly kept practice going 25 minutes after the lift had crashed. Because when practice is important enough to put a student’s life at risk, you can be damn well sure it isn’t important enough to stop it when that student is seriously injured. No one was ever charged in Declan’s death and a civil suit was settled out of court. Kelly is still Notre Dame’s head football coach.
That isn’t the worst disservice done to Notre Dame’s students, though.
In August of 2010, Lizzy Seeberg, a student at Notre Dame’s sister school, St. Mary’s, accused a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her.
Ten days later, no one in the administration seemed to be taking her accusation seriously: Notre Dame hadn’t even investigated the player and had only talked with her the day before, nine days after reporting the assault. She was receiving threatening text messages from the player’s friends, warning her, “Don’t do anything you would regret. Messing with notre dame football is a bad idea.”
Lizzy committed suicide that day.
The football player, who was never charged with assault, never missed a practice or a down of football, and never had his name released to the public, will be lining up with a chance to win a national championship on January 7th.
This is not an uncommon occurrence on Notre Dame’s campus. Another student accused a Notre Dame player of raping her in February of 2011. She didn’t report it immediately because of what had happened in Lizzy’s case: if no one cared then, why would they care now? This student also received threatening text messages from the player’s friends. Read the whole story here about the systematic dismissal of rape culture, especially by athletes, on Notre Dame’s campus and what Lizzy went through.
Like I said, Notre Dame may be a good academic institution, but the culture of placing athletics, prestige, and reputation above truth and justice is a toxic one. It is in many ways similar to the Catholic Church itself, exalting tradition, the reputation of the church, and the infallibility of its leaders above all else.
This is why you should care about this game.
Yes, the University of Alabama probably focuses too much of its time and resources on its football program and that’s a separate discussion altogether. I’m not a fan of Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, either. But Alabama doesn’t tolerate rape and abuse from its football players and Saban doesn’t put his student staff’s lives at risk.
So even if football’s not your thing or you think college sports are a waste of resources, this outcome is worth caring about. With a victory, Notre Dame’s sins will be pushed even further out of the spotlight. All the donors, alumni, fans, and students will see is a big, shiny crystal trophy and proof that the way their athletic department is run works. They can forget about Declan and Lizzie and the consequences of an organization with too much power. If Notre Dame loses, maybe — just maybe — people will think about the sins of the program and recognize that this program needs to change.
If you know someone supporting Notre Dame football, ask them if they know about these cases. Ask them how they can support an institution that allows an athletic department to come before the lives of students. Think about what it says about them.
***Edit***: Portions of this piece have been changed since the original posting.