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Recognizing Notre Dame student-athletes

Molly Howell | Saturday, September 29, 2012

The University of Notre Dame, its students, faculty, staff, alumni and surrounding community, love Fighting Irish athletics. We love football games and the entire weekends we devote to them. Rain or shine, we love cheering on our soccer, basketball, baseball and hockey teams. We love wearing our ND apparel at every available opportunity wherever we may be in the world. We are immensely proud of our athletic tradition no matter what our season looks like or who the competition may be. However, this undefeated football season is looking pretty good. Notre Dame is a very strong academic institution, but at its heart, athletics most definitely have a place as well.
Unless you are a fellow student, it is sometimes easy to forget those athletes on the field or court, the ones making records and being written about in the newspaper, are students themselves. It’s easy to watch their game and forget they may have a paper due the next day or a big exam to study for. On the other hand, the rest of the students sometimes forget they are also athletes playing in these much-watched games. Some days they are just our friends, roommates or the kids we sit next to in class. But they are not just athletes or students: They are student-athletes. They handle the same class load as the rest of us on top of a very competitive and intense varsity sport. A high level of dedication and hard work is required of student-athletes, juggling both school and sports every day. They are among the hardest working students on our campus, making countless sacrifices to be able to represent the Irish on the field or court.
Living with a Notre Dame athlete, as well as dating one, I am a firsthand witness to the daily life of an ND student-athlete. As my roommate and boyfriend are both big parts of my life here, I am affected by their busy schedules. Both in-season and off, they both are constantly occupied managing classes, homework, studying, conditioning and practice. Some days there just isn’t enough time to complete their to-do lists. Being able to play a sport at Notre Dame is an opportunity few are given, but those who do play clearly make a commitment that is not always easy to uphold.
Any athlete will tell you their collegiate sport doesn’t end when the official season draws to a close; they have obligations to their sport almost their entire time here. But I am sure every one of our student-athletes would say the blood, sweat and tears are worth it. Sacrificing time with friends and family, other interests on and off campus, breaks and most importantly sleep is worth it to be able to represent the Fighting Irish. They are able to play under the lights against Michigan, travel and compete against some of the best teams and schools in the nation and become heroes and role models for young Notre Dame fans across the country.
The student body and Notre Dame community witnessed a particular act of courage and determination demonstrated by a student-athlete these past few weeks. His name easily comes to mind: Senior football player Manti Te’o. After suffering two devastating personal losses, Te’o chose to stay and support his team, contributing to victories over rivals Michigan State and Michigan with 20 tackles and two interceptions. During the pep rally before the Michigan game, he told the student-body, “Four years ago, I made the decision to come here and I didn’t really know why. It’s times like these I know why.” His unparalleled dedication is the best example of that of a student-athlete’s at the Notre Dame.
Notre Dame prides itself not only on tradition and athletics, but also on family. Just by watching the student body sing the Alma Mater together after every game one can immediately sense the bond that runs through this University. Every student, past or present, athlete or non-athlete, is included. The Notre Dame family came out strong last weekend in supporting Te’o by wearing leis to honor him and his family. Te’o summed it up best in an interview after the game, saying, “That lei for me represents family. It doesn’t represent me. It represents everyone sticking together and everybody realizing what’s important in life. That’s families sticking together.”
While Notre Dame and its student-athletes care about winning, they also care about each other and the name on the front of their jerseys. Their primary responsibility is not always scoring points or breaking records, but giving the Notre Dame community something to cheer and fight for. Athletics are so important at Notre Dame not because of a winning tradition, but because they are what bring us together as a family year after year.
Molly Howell is a freshman Anthropology and International Economics major, as well as a Gender Studies minor. She can be reached at mhowell5@nd.edu.
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.