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Should Notre Dame have a football team?

That may seem like an odd question, and an unadulterated heresy, especially in a week in which Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 in college football for the first time since the Council of Trent. The team even merits the cover of Sports Illustrated -- and a bonus Latin headline! (Is it correct? Can Notre Dame students read it?)Of course the SI cover means the team is doomed.But in a more serious vein, Notre Dame's return to glory comes just as disturbing questions are being raised about college football and contact sports in general that are causing debilitating injuries, for young and old alike. Big-time football programs have the potential to corrupt colleges themselves, as we have seen at Penn States and in the incidences of execrable behavior by players who are shielded by the administration.The promo for the SI article says, "The Irish are marching onward to the national championship game and downward from the moral high ground they have claimed for a century."I don't have a subscription and don't know what problems the story might detail. But Notre Dame has had its share of scandals and the sport overall is undergoing intense scrutiny.At Real Clear Religion, Jeff Weiss has an article exploring some of the moral hazards, and even citing Tertullian -- via a recent Christian Century cover story.Earlier this month, the New York Times highlighted Liberty University's crusade to make the school founded by Jerry Falwell the evangelical Notre Dame when it comes to football:

We think there would be a vast, committed fan base of conservative, evangelical Christians around the country and maybe even folks who are conservative politically who would rally behind Liberty football, Falwell Jr. said, smiling at the thought. They would identify with our philosophy.The university has a motto for the cause: Champions for Christ.And yes, there are parallels to Notre Dame, Falwell continued. There might even be a little rivalry there the Catholics against the Protestants.

Well, better to battle it out on the gridiron rather than on the field of battle.At MOJ, Michael Moreland cites Mark Massa in noting how Notre Dame football "bequeathed a sense of pride and identity to generations of immigrant Catholics." I'm sure that's so. But what is the purpose of the program now? Still simple tribal pride? Evangelization? Or as a vehicle for the divine?Moreland writes:

"As the Catholic Church in America faces the legacy of scandal and seeming collapse of institutional presence, there's hope that God somehow brings about dramatic changes of fortune, sometimes in mundane ways (like college football, maybe) and sometimes in ways that change the world.It may all come to a crashing end this Saturday in Los Angeles against USC or on January 7th in the BCS national championship game, but, for at least a week, we can rejoice athow quickly things can change and our hope affirmed."

Does the success of Notre Dame football affirm such a thing? Or could it affirm the opposite -- that Notre Dame football should not field a team, or should at least diminish the role of the team?Or am I showing my Puritan roots here on the eve of Thanksgiving?

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-- Being happy with always being a bridesmaid Im not sure what the first bit means, --It refers back to this: "For most Catholic families who will never be able to afford the staggering tuition at a world famous University such as Notre Dame, .... giving middle class Catholic families an amazing glimpse into the wonderful things being done there on campus ..."Bridesmaids, not brides.

This is exactly the kind of heretical commentary we have all come to expect from Commonweal. And what's with the timing? After 19 years, we are #1 for 3 whole days and you want us -- now?! -- to reject football? Undefeated and with the top graduation rate in all of college sports (yes, above Duke and Stanford)?! Maybe I would entertain your shameless alumni bait of a post at another time, such as after we lost to Tulsa in 2010. But no, I don't want to ponder your questions right now, just like I don't want to ponder the harmful effects of refined sugar on Halloween or pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. I have a proper liturgical sensibility. Also, is the Latin correct? Check it yourself, award-winning journalist and commentator! Actually, though, the Latin could have been better: Victoria et Gloria Dominae Nostrae would have sounded the right notes, I think. Or as we used to say to conclude our prayer at Friday Glee Club rehearsals before home games, "Our Lady of Victory, Pray for Us." And another thing -- but just one more, because I simply will not get baited into caring about or responding to this post -- about the "moral hazards" of football. Are you really going to bring this up when the next and most storied opponent is USC? That entire university is a moral hazard. Manti Te'o has more moral sensibility in his one (albeit very strong) finger than the entire USC athletic department.

Go Irish

I have three things against football (and in some ways basketball too). First, it leads to the maiming of the brains of many players. Second, too often sports takes too much of the players free time or makes them otherwise unfit for study because they are too tired or hurting. Third, at schools which do not have enough money to meet their ambitions (only a few like Harvard with its billions in endowments do) the radical sports alumni with money have assumed a role in making academic decisions. For instance, pressure is put on teachers to give unearned passing grades to football heroes, or a fine academic administrator who has bad luck choosing coaches is replaced because the money guys want him gone. Generous alums will always have some influence, but the radical insanity of some sports-fan alumni has been a terrible thing for universities. True, radical football donors are not the only problem, but they have been a big part of the dumbing down of too many American unversities..

P. S. Let me again recommend Robert Hutchins' "The Idea of a University". It's still relevant.

I have a vague memory that many years ago, President Theodore Hesburgh of ND floated the idea of de-emphasizing (not eliminating) football only to have the Usual Suspects among his alumni call down all sorts of maledictions on his head. So he retreated. Should he have? Some years back in "The Game of Life" William Bowen and James Shulman concluded that alumni threats of this sort are generally empty, at least when it comes to financial support. They also put the kibosh on the notion that Big Time Football makes money for the university so that it can support, say, women's soccer or tennis or other non-moneymakers. Of the ten or so universities they studied (and Bowen, former pres. of Princeton, is an economist), only the U. of Michigan football turned a profit, and that only in championship years. Even more years ago the faculty at Ohio State (I think) passed a motion encouraging the Board of Trustees to go out and hire a football team to play for OSU, thus severing the connection between the University's quasi-mission in sports and its academic mission. Needless to say, nothing came of it.About a decade ago I heard a talk by Leon Botstein of Bard College who came down four-square in favor of a university's mission to teach sports. With this difference: while everyone should learn to play football, for instance, once you've learned it sufficiently well, you should be cut from the squad in order to give a chance to someone else who needs the education. (In the same talk, Botstein, who's a conductor and musicologist, also said no up and coming violinist ought to be allowed to perform the Brahms concerto until he or she has written a cadenza for it. So Botstein sets fairly high standards).

Notre Dame football may have the highest graduation rate in the country, and perhaps a few good players, but they sure don't know how to mold boys into impressive, spiritual, other-centered men http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao109a38uVY&feature=related

I guess one big question is whether you need a high-flying football program to mold these fellows into impressive men given that there are so many other cases of sexual assault against women and drunkenness and horrendous behavior, not to mention the physical toll on these young men and the money that is spent on football. Does a Catholic college need to foster such behaviors in order to hold up a few good examples?

Win one (better, two!) for the Gipper (not RR!)... and we'll discusss this after the Bowl game!

I don't get the point of being a big man on campus and a top athlete if you have to have morals and values and stuff.

But think of all the opportunities for evangelization that will be missed?The Hail Mary Pass?

"Should Notre Dame have a football team?"For most Catholic families who will never be able to afford the staggering tuition at a world famous University such as Notre Dame, to be able watch them on network TV and not on cable is very uplifting. The commercials are especially nice, giving middle class Catholic families an amazing glimpse into the wonderful things being done there on campus and by the alumni throughout the world.

For those that won't watch contemporary football... get the video "Remember the Titans," "The Blind Side," "Rudy," and "The Brian Piccolo Story" and maybe the PBS "Harvard beats Yale-29-29" -- and add in from a score of others (one of my silly favorites is "The Best of Times")- and OD on what football has represented --ENJOY!... but then, soon, we must have this conversation as now even Frank Deford is calling for it...

"Big-time football programs have the potential to corrupt colleges themselves, as we have seen at Penn States and in the incidences of execrable behavior by players who are shielded by the administration."[Holy orders] have the potential to corrupt [religions] themselves, as we have seen at [Catholic parishes] and in the incidences of execrable behavior by [priests] who are shielded by the administration.

"Rudy...Rudy...Rudy...Rudy...Rudy!"But see:http://money.cnn.com/2011/12/16/news/companies/rudy_sec/index.htm

I agree with much of this, and I think we should all look into these things much more deeply. (In 2013, after Notre Dame has won the national championship.)

You want the moral hazards of football? How about this: Cal Berkeley has, once again, raised its tuition to the point that it is becoming less and less affordable.HOWEVER, Jeff Tedford, the alleged football coach (has a 3 & 9 season record) has just been fired. Of particular concern was the teams recent academic performance. Berkeleys football graduation rate is 48 percent, lowest in the Pac 12. By comparison, 90 percent of Stanfords football players graduate.Tedford is due up to three years of his annual $2.3 million salary, but officials say hes only due the entire amount if he doesnt find another job something they say is highly unlikely. (Really - with his abominable record?) If he does land a job elsewhere, he would be paid up to one years salary.Tedford is one of the HIGHTEST PAID EMPLOYEES OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. The other 2 are the foodball coaches of USC and UCLA.That, my friends, is ONE of the moral hazards of college football.BTW, Bob Diaco of UND is being touted as a potential successor.

"For most Catholic families who will never be able to afford the staggering tuition at a world famous University such as Notre Dame, to be able watch them on network TV and not on cable is very uplifting. The commercials are especially nice, giving middle class Catholic families an amazing glimpse into the wonderful things being done there on campus and by the alumni throughout the world."Being happy with always being a bridesmaid, but never a bride? (I do hope your tongue was FIRMLY planted in your cheek with that comment!)

Jim McCrea,The coach of USC is not in any way an EMPLOYEE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA.David,I think your Puritan roots are showing. In this fallen world, what human activity doesn't have some possible downsides. Even ND's selection of professors isnt 'pure'.

Bruce: I stand corrected.

How come Loyola football never makes the cover of SI?

Football, and sports in general, seems to be able to create a tangible sense of "We." Though it's an odd "we." virtually no one watching a football game can do what the players are doing.I wonder what it is about sports that does that?

Loyola U. here used to have sports, but eliminated inter-college stuff. It used to be a mediocre school then. Now it has one of the best regional liberal arts colleges in the country plus some other fine programs. I say hire a professional team, like Hutchins said, if you must have sports. Then there will be the moral advantage of the players being paid just wages. As it is the players are like indentured servants or temporary slaves. Evil.

"Being happy with always being a bridesmaid..."I'm not sure what the first bit means, but I was being serious. In the world I'm from ND is like a Catholic Harvard. It is therefore sufficient to say people in the community I'm from have no comprehension what that is like, so to be able to watch on network TV and be transported into that world, similar to going to the cinema, even if it's only for a few hours on a Saturday night, is really special. For my own part, therefore, I value the escapism offered by the television presence of the ND football program and would be disappointed with its absence (which, while interesting to discuss, will never happen).

Let's start by understanding that it is an imperfect world. While there are legitimate questions about the violence of football, Notre Dame football, in a Wasp world, made Catholics proud. That football team unified Catholics more than any bishop ever did. It gave Catholics a connection more than the Roman Rite. The Italians, and other ethnic Catholics in this country always supported. the fighting Irish, connecting to the Catholic identity. Sports has a way of capturing the hearts of people like nothing else. And no team did this better than ND football. Yet the truth is that the faith unites people better, is long lasting and less fickle. It is the difference between the showy and the substantial. One can get you through the day or the week. The other gets you through life.

Malcolm Forbes at the end of his life began to give more substantially to the needy. He said that he wants to do something that will help him "on the other side." Notre Dame, for all its glory, and Ted Hesburgh, is inextricably associated with the upper middle class. Which, perhaps, makes it imperative for us to focus on the captive Christs who, though doing better, are not faring as well. http://newswire.crs.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Good-News-for-a-Chang...

Here is a link to Washington Posts Melinda Hennebergers reporting last spring on the link between sexual violence at Notre Dame and the indulgence shown to football players: http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/reported-sexual-assault-notre-d...

Go Irish! We can bear the burden of winning!

Kevin --Thanks for that article. I had no idea the hook=up culture, foolish as it was, was now tolerating rape. Good for the Obama administration. I wonder if the President is inspired by the fact that he has two pretty young daughters who will be in college in the blink of an eye.From what Henneberger says it's not just the ball players who are threats.

I don't understand why a college football coach being paid well is a moral hazard. And, to answer the question, "Yes, so long as it does not win too often." After all, we are supposed to despise the 1%, no? Excellence is to be envied, then torn down.Happy Thanksgiving!

Competitive sports are apparently a decent way to guide the excess testosterone of young men into relatively harmless channels and to teach teamwork to young men and women alike. Beyond that, it's excess. The time when Catholics took heart from rugged Irish immigrants fighting it out for bloody glory on the football field is past. The pragmatic old Irish priests and the honorable-as-day Catholic coaches are long gone, replaced with would-be Commonweal Catholics, cued up for the wine and brie.Sure, let it go. Along with "Catholic" colleges.

What's wrong with wine and brie?

David: it is WHITE wine and brie. It has to be WHITE wine, preferably Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.Ripple, and Annie Green Springs no longer qualify. Blue Nun, while white and quasi-Catholic, is so very, very passe .. you know, like Gregorian chant.

And screw top bottles, particularly from Australia and Latin America, are perfectly OK. Right, Ed Gleason?

This is misguided Puritanism at best.Notre Dame is far from perfect. Giving an honorary degree to Barack Obama comes to mind. But Notre Dame football has been an important part of Catholic identity in the United States, and it still is, though far less than it once was. And it is great fun, at least this season.

David Gibson: Bah. humbug!

"Notre Dame football has been an important part of Catholic identity in the United States."Is this what Andrew Greeley meant by "cultural Catholicism?"I guess it beats front yard statues of the BVM in an upturned bathtub.

What would Commonweal readers think about Notre Dame (and other universities) fielding big time cage fighting teams? But the incidence of serious injury, including brain injury, in football is probably on the same general level.I remember a drill on my 9th grade football team (my last year in the sport, before switching to cross country) called "bull in the ring." Details aren't important; it's just one of a great many football drill more than capable of inflicting head injury. I really got my bell rung, but the pride in making the stop more than compensated for the headache I received. Cognitive dysfunction is now recognized as being a frightfully prevalent sequela of past football participation. I had daughters, but I wouldn't have allowed sons to compete in football. I've read that even ex-professional football players are beginning to take the same position, regarding their own sons.I write this while still nursing the memory of the bitter defeat by this year's excellent Notre Dame team of my beloved Michigan Wolverines. And while eagerly anticipating tomorrow's big rivalry game with Ohio State.Perhaps another form of Catholic guilt -- expressed in this blog post.The gladiatorial blood sport.There is nothing new under the sun.- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

I guess now that we don't have Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to kick around anymore, it's time to beat up on ND football. I am not a football fan. If there were no more college or professional football, my life would go on. But a discussion of whether ND should eliminate football? Talk about a slow news day. Of all subjects to move the tenuous Israeli Hamas truce off the front burner.

Thanks, Larry (2:59). It really is time to stop encouraging kids to injure themselves seriously in the name of toughening them up for real life. But do it gradually, intelligently, with plemty of open discussion and public input.

8:00 PM tonight... Now I know that all of you won't be watching -- heck, my family may have other preferences and I'll only get to check score or retreat to another tv- but even after not following ND for 25 years, I feel a certain excitement--Safe game, all... and GO IRISH!!!!! (Wonder if the President will have any preferences on this? Will the team get a call if they win? Will he get an invitation to speak to the them??? Will Bp. Jenky issue any statements about the communist/fascist influence should there be upset? Oh, the places you'll go....)

I did not let my sons play football. But I fanatically root for my favorite team and watch other teams with sons of other parents. Football is number one is the USA and the tv execs cannot get enough of it. It does not exactly parallel with Augustine's guilt about watching the games but there is something there. There are people who condemn football and hockey but have strong hatred for others. It is a strange world.

Yay, Irish!!

A sports team tends to make colleges palatable to Americans by giving those colleges a kind of scrappy go-getter personality they can relate to, unlike the egghead weirdo types studying in the liberry. Because many sports programs at big school earn revenue for the schools and attract donors, they support the eggheads, weirdos, not to mention music programs (what's a football team without a marching band soundtrack?). Anecdotal evidence only, but when I was at Michigan State, a Big 10 (or 13 or whatever it is now) school (or at Central Michigan University, a second-string state university), I was NEVER pressured to give ath-a-leets a good grade. In fact, I was required to submit frequent reports on their grades to the coaching staff, who then pressured the STUDENTS to get with it if they wanted to keep their scholarships. OTOH, most of my students came from "minor" teams (soccer, tennis, golf, track, etc.). I don't know what it might be like to deal with the football/basketball teams, where the pressures are much greater. But the athletes in my classes were generally good students, engaged, and energetic.I have fond memories of fall mornings taking little boys in my son's elementary school class to watch women's rugby matches, to which I was invited by one of my students on the team. The boys got to know the girls, had favorite players with nicknames like Timber and Shorty, and the girls chatted with them after the games and let them play with the ball, try on scrum helmets, and chased them around the field. My kid is almost 17 and still enjoys watching women's sports. Possibly for entirely different reasons now ...

Thank you, Kevin McDermott 11/21/2012 - 10:11 pm for linking to the "Washington Posts Melinda Hennebergers reporting last spring on the link between sexual violence at Notre Dame and the indulgence shown to football players." A girl is dead, the alleged rapist enjoys broad defense in the community, his supporters harass Lizzy Seeberg, the university acquits itself abominably, and I find nothing in the record to commend Notre Dame football. I remember the multiple comments no longer online from rape victims going back decades with the same experience of indifference and hostility by spinning administrators.Sorry, the trauma of so many is not negated by the "we" feeling generated by football. David Gibson asks the relevant question: are there ways to develop men of substance like the truly impressive Manti T'eo by means other than football?Here's an idea: Would Manti lead a program for players and all students by exposing the heinous record of ND and college football in general? I don't see him as a person who would endorse ND's response to Lizzy Seeburg and all ND's other untold rape victims.Would he come right out and condemn the attitude of entitlement by players and others who turn the lives of rape victims into living hells? Who accept violence as a way of life? Who refuse to own their criminal conduct by excusing themselves, blaming the victims, and manipulating reality to escape accountability?I believe Manti T'eo and others like him could teach players, coaches, administrators, faculty, alumni and students another way to be when it comes to football. But how many would respond genuinely to a gathering of speakers and victims? Or would the auditorium draw anywhere near the attendance of a football rally?

Larry Weisenthal:You wrote, I wouldnt have allowed sons to compete in football. Ive read that even ex-professional football players are beginning to take the same position, regarding their own sons. Not only ex-pro players; ex-college players, too. This from The 22-year-Old Retiree, a recent piece in the N.Y. Times about Jordan Wynn, former quarterback at the University of Utah:

SALT LAKE CITY In the end zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the turf below colored a familiar red, Jordan Wynn scanned the expanse of empty bleachers. A sling, a maze of straps and buckles, stabilized his left arm. That is the bionic one.Good times in here, he whispered. Indeed. When he played quarterback at Utah, before the injuries and the operations, before the sympathy and the pity, before he retired at 22, some of the best moments of Wynns life occurred in that very end zone. . [He] recorded 297 yards passing and 2 touchdowns against New Mexico, the best debut start for a Utah freshman quarterback. His father, Robert Wynn, watched that game from the stands, saw the hits his son absorbed and said he realized for the first time just how physical, how violent, college football was. The first injury occurred during the spring game of his sophomore season. . . . The second injury took place in 2010, the third in 2011. . . . The hit that ended Wynns career came Sept. 7 against Utah State, On his cellphone, Wynn loaded a picture of an X-ray. It was his left shoulder, the labrum torn all the way around. Staples now hold it in place, along with a pair of three-inch screws and a piece of collarbone. The X-ray looks almost artistic, a medical Rembrandt, a shoulder stitched together by metal and science. . . .After four operations three on the left shoulder, one on the right after one shoulder or the other popped out of joint close to 100 times, Wynn retired this fall. . . . Wynn loved football, loved Utah, loved his starring turn. But the more he talked inside a pizza joint near campus decorated with posters of the Beatles and old-school Utah Jazz pennants, the more he seemed to embody footballs current crossroads. He did not appear bitter over his predicament, only sad and realistic. As he bit into a pepperoni slice, Wynn said: Im not going to let my kid play football. No way. Im going to show him that picture, my screws. Im going to put a putter in the crib.

There were some who couldnt accept Wynns decision to retire:

He shuttered his Twitter account after all the hatred he saw online. One comment read, Im so glad Jordan Wynn is done playing football. Wynn is not glad. At a recent practice, he wore a parka and sweats instead of a uniform, as pads crunched and coaches screamed. Wynn stood there, his arm in that sling, still a part of it and far removed all at once. Someday this would all make sense, what happened to him. But not today, or tomorrow, this month or next. This is the end, said the 22-year-old retiree with the bionic arm. And this is the beginning.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/sports/ncaafootball/jordan-wynn-utahs-...

"...ex-college players, too."Footaball is not for everyone, Gene. Each student embraces the sport that he/she carries in his/her heart. Among students, the heart (and what a friend does) is almost omnipotent.

Sunday... post Notre Dame victory (for those who missed it!- low key "Yay")... I watched part of the game with both an Irish fan's perspective and this blog in mind ...and hope that no one was injured... no reports that way, I don't think...Does this have to be an either -or discussion? I don't imagine we'll go for two hand touch or flag football, but I fear the whole thing is quixotic .. even though something must be done... but I will admit to missing some of it already...

Thanks to Carolyn Disco for shocking us out of our reverie and giving us something substantial to chew on. The jock mentality is very much a part of ND football and we have to take responsibility to acknowledge it and do what we can to reduce it. The repugnant truth is that it is true outside of football also. Especially in the colleges who are decidedly afraid to confront it. http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/?q=article/2012/10/17/account-sexual-a...

Times change. Bullfights used to be fine. They're fading away, like gladiatorial combats before them. Boxing and football are still fine, but that's changing, slowly. Civilization seems to make us tamer, less accepting of violence. Softer. A proclivity for violence remains, though, sublimated where it can't be externalized. Our mores and sensibilities may change, but our natures stay the same. What happens to the push for violence when it's forced underground, into the subconscious?

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.