Given the painful experience with sexual abuse in the Church over the past decade or two, Catholics are all-too-familiar with the tendency of powerful cliques to close ranks in the face of allegations of impropriety. Thankfully, I believe things are dramatically better today, even if bishops are still not being held accountable.
But we see the same forces continue to play out in other powerful organizations that instil great tribal loyalty – no more so than in college athletics. We all know the shocking story from Penn State, when students rioted to defend a man who covered up rape. We know the shocking story from Steubenville when high-school football players bragging about raping a teenage girl. In this context, I think it is important to draw attention to this awful story from Notre Dame, where a young woman who alleged she was raped by a member of the football team was threatened to keep her mouth shut, and ended up committing suicide. And even after this, the school sought to defame a dead 19-year old girl to protect the its privileged athletes.Granted, I am not a sports fan, and I have a particular dislike of American football, but something felt a bit off over the past few days when so many Facebook friends were posting about the glories of this Notre Dame football team. I kept thinking about Lizzy Seeberg and all the other victims of abuse and injustice in the face of a culture that winks at violence and embraces cronyism. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I thought that universities were supposed to prioritize the intellect over gladiatorial contests. Maybe if alumni put more stock in the values of the academy instead of the values of the hippodrome, universities would be less disordered and dysfunctional. After all, when was the last time you heard of this kind of behavior among groups of top-class mathematicians or art historians?