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Football and failed family

Christopher Damian | Tuesday, January 29, 2013

For Christmas, I received a framed Sports Illustrated cover. The top reads, “The Notre Dame Miracle.” The story discusses the “Modern Irish,” and Tim Layden opens his piece by writing, “The echoes have been awoken, the thunder shaken down, and the new Notre Dame is marching onward to the national championship game-and downward from the moral high ground it has claimed for a century.”
The article chronicles recent changes to Notre Dame’s football program. It suggests that moral standards for Notre Dame athletes have dramatically decreased and that our athletes are becoming less a part of Notre Dame’s student body. Yet, comments by one “Weis-era employee” illustrate some irony. He told Layden, “[I] think the campus environment softens a kid. Then you’ve got to get him back over to the facility and unsoften him.'” So at the behest of coach Brian Kelly, our players got facilities with their own training table, pool, Ping-Pong tables, an Xbox 360 and other video games. Football players now have more perks and fewer reasons to stay in the “softening” campus environment.
This employee seems to criticize the seriousness of this environment. Being a world-class athlete requires a certain commitment to excellence, and he suggests the campus environment is not conducive for this excellence.  After living in the dorms, I have found these criticisms are not entirely unfounded. When freshman dorm parties down the hall result in alcohol poisoning three weekends in a row, one must wonder what kind of environment these communities are seeking to create.
In a certain respect, our athletes are worthy of great admiration. I have met few Notre Dame students whose commitment to their studies matches our athletes’ commitment to their teams. Athletes are called upon to work their hardest every day in practice and in competition, but few students do the same in their primary commitments as members of the University. It is easy to imagine a student who is lazy in his or her classes. It is difficult to imagine a football player who is lazy on the field.
This, however, is not the entire story. Layden writes, “The current generation of Notre Dame football will be forever connected … to the lives of Declan Sullivan and Lizzy Seeberg, both of whom died during Brian Kelly’s first season.” My Notre Dame experience will also be forever connected to these deaths, particularly the death of Lizzy, who accused one Notre Dame football player of assaulting her and, after little happened but threats from the player’s friend, ten days later committed suicide.
In a Washington Post article, Notre Dame alumna Melinda Henneberger notes that this player was actively recruited and publicly praised by our current coach both before and after the incident. She questions why he was recruited at all, considering “he was suspended during his senior year in high school for throwing a desk at a teacher who’d taken away his cell phone.”
In a different article, Henneberger notes another incident last year: “A resident assistant in a Notre Dame dorm drove a freshman to the hospital for a rape exam … ‘She [the freshman] said she’d been raped by a member of the football team at a party off campus,’ the R.A. [said]… The R.A.’s parents, who met the young woman that same night, when their daughter brought her to their home after leaving the hospital … said they saw – and reported to athletic officials – a hailstorm of texts from other players, warning the young woman not to report what had happened: ‘They were trying to silence this girl,’ the R.A.’s father [said].” They succeeded. She never filed a complaint.
At the end of his career, Charlie Weis named Residence Life “the biggest problem on Notre Dame’s campus.” Now, with recent restructuring and turned heads, it seems our football program has won against ResLife, and others, including at least two young women and their families, have lost. While, according to our University president, “we did our best to get to the truth” of a girl who never existed, the events leading up to the death of Lizzy Seeberg still remain unclear. Lizzy’s family, which includes 13 Notre Dame and St. Mary’s alumni, now feels betrayed by the school they had always loved. Perhaps the “Notre Dame family” only goes so far as the football team.
Christopher Damian is a senior studying philosophy. He can be contacted at cdamian1@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.