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ND students react to Lou Holtz’s speech at the Republican National Convention

| Friday, August 28, 2020

Former Fighting Irish head coach Lou Holtz gave a virtual speech in support of President Donald Trump during Wednesday’s Republican National Convention (RNC). A longtime Republican, Holtz endorsed President Trump’s administration and his reelection campaign ahead of the November general election, using coach-like language to describe the incumbent as a winner.

Courtesy of PBS

Former Fighting Irish football coach Lou Holtz gave a five minute speech at the Republican National Convention, Wednesday evening. Holtz spoke to the importance of values and Catholicism.

University President Fr. John Jenkins issued a statement Thursday, distancing Notre Dame from any and all political views Holtz expressed in his speech.

“While Coach Lou Holtz is a former coach at Notre Dame, his use of the University’s name at the Republican National Convention must not be taken to imply that the University endorses his views, any candidate or any political party,” the statement said.

Sophomore Emily Kane said she felt ashamed when she read excerpts from the speech, and junior Avery Garrity said she was disappointed to see Holtz speak at the RNC.

“While he wasn’t speaking on behalf of Notre Dame officially, when people see Lou Holtz, they think of Notre Dame. And he talked about the statue that he has on our campus and so I was hoping that no one took from that speech that that was the same view that Notre Dame has,” Garrity said.

Junior Sarah Scharf said she did not think that speech was unusual.

“I didn’t think that there was anything particularly controversial in it,” junior Sarah Scharf said of the speech. “Sounds to me like he was mostly just saying that he loves this country and he supports Trump, both of which are pretty fair opinions.”

Junior Sean Hughes said it was unexpected, but he did not have an issue with what Holtz said.

“I was kind of surprised, to be honest, that he was doing it. It wasn’t something I was expecting,” junior Sean Hughes said. “But I’d say overall, I was happy that he was expressing his opinion.”

Hughes also referenced Wednesday night’s boycotts led by players from the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Women’s NBA, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball in the wake of Jacob Blake’s police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“I thought that was super powerful, that now — in the sports world — it’s become more important to not hide away from issues occurring around the world, but really express how you feel,” Hughes said. “You’re more than an athlete, you’re more than a coach.”

Holtz began his five-minute speech by talking about growing up poor in a one-bedroom house in West Virginia. In spite of this, he said, his parents taught him priceless lessons. One of these was that life is about making choices, according to Holtz. This theme of decision-making was the basis of Holtz’s speech.

“Wherever you are, good or bad, don’t blame anyone else. Go get an education, get to work. You can overcome any obstacle,” Holtz said. “And always remember that in this great country of ours, anyone can amount to something special.”

“But there are people today, like politicians, professors, protesters and, of course, President Trump’s naysayers in the media, who like to blame others for problems. They don’t have pride in our country,” he added.

Holtz then mentioned his ties to the University. Specifically, the sculpture of him that has stood by the stadium for 12 years.

“There’s a statue of me at Notre Dame. I guess they needed a place for the pigeons to land. But if you look closely, you’ll see these three words there: trust, commitment and love.”

After Wednesday’s RNC, an alum wrote a Letter to the Editor Thursday, calling on the University to remove the statue and cut ties with the one-time football coach.

In his speech, Holtz said he makes decisions based upon the three words inscribed on his statue — regarding anyone, from his wife, to the athletes he has coached, to politicians.

He asks himself three things, he said. “One, can I trust them?”

“One of the important reasons he has my trust is because nobody has been a stronger advocate for the unborn than President Trump,” Holtz said, answering his question.

Garrity disagreed with Holtz.

“We can’t trust Donald Trump — he’s a known liar,” Garrity said. “It’s been reported that, as of this past July, he’s uttered over 20,000 false claims since being president. And it’s especially dangerous right now during the pandemic that we’re facing.”

“The Biden-Harris ticket is the most radically pro-abortion campaing in history,” Holtz continued. “They and other politicians are Catholic in name only.”

While Democratic candidate Joe Biden identifies as Catholic, his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, was raised on Hinduism and Christianity and she considers herself a Baptist, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Jenkins seemingly addressed this contentious part of Holtz’s speech in his statement as well.

“We Catholics should remind ourselves that while we may judge the objective moral quality of another’s actions, we must never question the sincerity of another’s faith, which is due to the mysterious working of grace in that person’s heart,” the University president said.

Garrity pointed out that in 2016, the University awarded Biden with the Laetare Medal, “the oldest and most prestigious honor accorded to American Catholics,” according to the University.

Referring to Biden and Harris, Scharf said: “If they’re not pro-life then that’s a big issue for me, at least, in saying that they do live by Catholic ideals, because being pro-life is very important for the majority of Catholics.”

As of 2019, 56% of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, whereas 42% believe it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center.

As he continued his speech, Holtz said he then asks himself a second question — whether they are committed to doing their very best. According to the former Figthing Irish coach, the president is. 

“President Trump finds solutions. President Trump is committed,” he said.

Third, Holtz said he asks himself whether that person loves other people. 

“To me, this is very clear. President Trump has demonstrated, through his prison reform, advocating for school choice and welfare reform, that he wants Americans from all walks of life to have the opportunity to succeed and live the American dream,” he said. “If I apply this test to Joe Biden, I can’t say yes to any of these three questions.”

Kane disagreed with Holtz’s assessment of the president.

“I do not believe Donald Trump is worthy of trust. I don’t think he has shown commitment to respecting all human beings. I don’t think he has shown love to all human beings,” she said.

Both her and Garrity referred to the ways in which President Trump has referred to and acted toward women, for instance.

In closing, Holtz referenced Notre Dame one last time: “I used to ask our athletes at Notre Dame: ‘If you did not show up, who would miss you and why?’ Can you imagine what would happen to us if President Trump had not shown up in 2016 to run for President?”

Kane sad she thinks the country would have been better if President Trump had not shown up.

“I’m going to imagine a world where Donald Trump did not show up. And I will focus on the recent history of this year. Our president downplayed the severity of the coronavirus,” Kane said. “I think our country could have faced this crisis a lot better.”

Reflecting on the overall message in Holtz’s speech, Hughes said he thinks a diversity of backgrounds and opinions makes Notre Dame unique, and that the only way the community can understand each other is by listening.

He said he considered himself more of a conservative before coming to Notre Dame, but the conversations he has had with one of his former roommates, who has a different family and political background, have been “really eye-opening.”

“I know not everyone’s gonna agree with what [Holtz] says, and that’s completely fine. But, like I was saying, it starts the conversation,” Hughes added.

Students had different expectations about how the political environment will feel on campus as the November general election draws near.

“I’m very nervous about the discourse,” Scharf said. “When talking about political ideas, especially during election time, I think it’s really important to remember that the people that you disagree with are still people.”

Hughes said he thinks some good might come out of any tension. “Opinions will polarize, definitely, and tensions will rise. But at the same time, the good that might come out of it is that more people will vote,” he said.

The University was set to hold the first 2020 presidential debate, but withdrew late July due to the health precautions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it will get more polarized as the election approaches,” Kane said. “I think it would have been worse if we actually held the debate on campus.”

Garrity agreed with Kane’s speculation.

“I think maybe having the debate on campus would have elicited some more fighting between students or unrest,” Garrity said.

Overall, Garrity expressed feeling positive about the civil discourse she has evidenced among students thus far.

“I believe that we all do care about each other and we’re united by the fact that we all go to Notre Dame and we are the Fighting Irish and I hope that the election doesn’t cause any tension in the student body,” she said.

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About Adriana Perez

Adriana is a junior from Guayaquil, Ecuador majoring in Political Science and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Sustainability. You can find her on Twitter @adrianamperezr.

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