Our beloved Brew.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's Time Notre Dame University ask WWJD?

I don't recall when I first recognized I loved all things Notre Dame University, but it was while in elementary school, for sure. The greatest benefit in moving to Chesterton, IN when my wife decided we were leaving Aurora, IL, where I was perfectly content, was the knowledge that it was about forty minutes from Notre Dame following the Indiana toll road.

Repeated hints, trips to the campus, mounds of ND apparel and outright begging weren't enough to entice either of my children to consider attending the one place I longed to be a part of for most of my life.

Despite numerous visits to the South Bend campus for a wide variety of sporting events and religious services, I had never been to an ND football game until this season when my son and I watched the Fighting Irish take on Stanford. Having attended all manner of professional sports, including World Cup soccer, and Olympics, I rate that game as one of the three most memorable and exciting sporting events of my life; sharing it with my son made it priceless. Until I experienced it firsthand, there was no way for me to comprehend how special ND football is.

That's why it pains me to say I don't expect to attend another until the University faces it moral obligations and comes clean about two incidents where students were put in harm's way while the school lawyered-up, kept tight-lipped and tried to sweep the incidents under the rug. As the parent of a college student, I would not feel comfortable sending my child to Notre Dame.

In October, Declan Sullivan, a student videographer for the football team was killed when he fell from a tower during the taping of football practice. In November, Lizzy Seeberg, a student at St. Mary's, committed suicide after filing a sexual assault complaint against a member of the ND football team. Parents don't send their child off to college expecting them to die there.

In the case of Sullivan, there is no question he had no business being on a sixty-foot tower during the wind storm that was present that day. Jack Swarbrick, the Athletic Director of ND claimed it was a normal practice day and the weather was not particularly concerning. He blames the incident on a fluke gust. That is just so wrong that it borders on evil. Sullivan was texting about his fear of the weather conditions before being on the tower and shortly before he fell to his death.

When I read accounts of his texts in the local papers all I could imagine was my son in that same position and how awful it had to be to climb that tower in fear, knowing that if you protested or refused you'd be branded for shirking your duties to the team. The pressure would be unbearable for many adults, let alone a college student, in that situation.

Brian Kelly, the head football coach left practice in the hands of the assistant coaches long enough to wander over to where the tower lay fallen, and the ambulance was, to check on the condition of Sullivan while the EMTs were attending to the young man. He quickly determined there was nothing he could do, and went back to practice. I find that fact bordering on heartless. I interpret his actions as: "Yep, boys, a lad in the service of our team fell to his death a few yards away, but don't let that interfere with your preparations for the big game on Saturday. We've got a game to win, a tradition to uphold and my career to protect." I have lost all respect for Coach Kelly.

Before the Sullivan death had left the media's attention the story of Lizzy Seeberg's death and ordeal was in the news. Was she sexually assaulted? That will never be determined. In fairness to the football player she accused of groping her, we must accept that his version of what happened suggests it was consensual activity. Although he has never been named publicly, and neither the team nor the University took any action against him, he has engaged a high profile attorney who now claims his client is considering suing based on the accusations. So it appears to me neither the University or his parents have done a very good job of teaching him responsibility. If the accuser's death ruled out any possible legal action against him, why wouldn't it rule out any countersuit on his part? She is not alive to defend herself. Why does he feel a need to assume the role of victim? He, his parents and the attorney have to know he will never truly clear his name in this incident. My guess is the University will offer him a quiet, but significant cash settlement to drop his case. Sadly, based on all accounts to date, they haven't offered either the Sullivan or Seeberg families any kind of closure.

I can't embrace the University again until the day I hear that both families are fully satisfied with the Notre Dame response, and Notre Dame accepts responsibility for the poor handling of both incidents and enacts changes to their policies that ensure students safety is more than lip service on their campus. While I've always known that ND is big business, I also felt it was a Catholic epicenter in this nation. As such, it has a duty to conduct itself in a manner that puts the tenets of its faith ahead of its desire to protect its brand reputation. As Father Theodore Hesburgh, the former president of Notre Dame, was fond of saying, " . . . you do it because it's the right thing." It's a simple matter of asking what would Jesus do?