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Love thee’ is a two-way street

| Thursday, October 3, 2013

When members of the football team jogged, walked and trudged toward the tunnel following Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma, they only heard one thing.
They did not hear the band, nor did they hear cheers. They heard boos coming from their classmates in the stands – and lots of them.
The booing was defensible then. The students did not know about Irish coach Brian Kelly’s new policy that nixed singing the alma mater after home losses. Students were confused and upset.
But how about when fans jeered the Irish at halftime of the South Florida game in 2011? Or when Tommy Rees entered the Purdue game a year ago? Or even when Notre Dame took a knee to end the first half against Oklahoma?
For those brief moments, the students – some of us included – forgot these players were also their classmates. The “celebrities” on the field were no longer group project members, roommates and friends. They were losers who were making the University look bad.
For a University that prides itself on the student aspect of student-athletes, Notre Dame’s students do not treat the football players like peers when they are on the field. Boos do not rain down on the basketball teams, the soccer teams or the hockey team when they lose, but they do for Kelly’s Irish.
So it really should not come as a shock if some football players are not overly enthusiastic about swaying and singing with a population that just yelled at them for losing.
If the students expect the football players to sing – win or lose – the students have to be there for the football players, win or lose.
At the same time, the fans are not wholly to blame: The football program also has become more and more distant from Notre Dame.
Since Kelly began at Notre Dame, he has made a number of tradition-altering changes. He instituted training tables for the team at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex (Gug), while other athletic teams have to settle for North Dining Hall. On Saturdays, the team now walks from the Gug to Notre Dame Stadium instead of from the Basilica after gameday mass. The pregame Mass now occurs a day before the game instead of a few hours.
Kelly has removed his team from the public – and student – eye and has concentrated them on the east side of campus at the intersection of isolation and privilege.
If the football players want the students to be there for them, win or lose, Kelly should allow students to see his players as their peers.
Kelly’s decision for his players not to sing the alma mater after home losses is not a tradition-breaking one (the policy was most recently put in place by Charlie Weis in 2006). But for the student body on campus, it’s all they have ever known.
They only know to stay until the end of the game. They only know to put their arms around each other and sway. They only know to “Love thee, Notre Dame.”
Now, they just need to know this is a two-way street.