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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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I am only a so-so footbal fan, but I think it's an error to equate it with bullfighting and boxing or to see it as a glorification of violence. In the former two, the object is the killing of the bull and the vanquishing of an opponent through hitting him. Football is directed at a goal and admittedly uses blocking to achieve that goal and tackling to prevent others from doing so, but it is far different in many ways. That doesn't mean it's completely non-violent (neither is baseball for that mattter!) or that it should continue, but it's more dissimilar than simliar to these other two.

David P. --I agree about the bullfighting and boxing -- and I'd add wrestling. Their point is to inflict pain to the extinction of life (the bull's) or consciousness (the man's). Football is about the strength of the line the arm and aim of the quarterback, and speed of the runners. At their best those young atheletes are indeed beautiful. But men do seem to have some inner need to pass painful endurance tests. I guess doing such things made sense evolutionarily, but surely it's not necessary any more. Can't you guys just enjoy doing something well without having to suffer too? Or would that turn football into dancing?

"But men do seem to have some inner need to pass painful endurance tests."I would be happy to pass along childbirth pains to see how well they do!

David S: I fail to see how becoming less accepting of violence can be equated with "softer." How abut saner? How about more Christ-like? http://christianity101online.com/blog/2006/09/03/does-jesus-advocate-vio...

You could always combine boxing and bullfighting, like in the Aeneid, where Entellus punches that bull to death. Football is pretty stupid, but I would definitely watch bull-boxing.

Jimmy, there is, among some conservative Christians, the notion that competition, violence, and bashing stuff is what makes men men. My Baptist in-laws encouraged their sons to make their own quarter staffs (staves?) and do kick boxing, and the fathers talked about the dangers of too much female influence on them. They made a conscious effort to reduce the maternal influence after age seven or eight, and now they're married and all belong to the Promise Keepers.Is this good? I don't know, but some conservative Christians have protested the "feminization" of the church (Weigel and Chuck Colson have written on this). They say men feel marginalized, that they feel "church is for girls." Does a winning football team like Notre Dame's make men feel less like this, rape and mayhem aside? Maybe.

I have seen more soccer than I enjoy (some injuries, but little direct violence), hardly any rugby (violence, but I don't know injury rates), golf (!), tennis (!), volleyball (!) basketball (some direct violence, but not the infliction the same way as a rule), and baseball (with the occasional beaning and tragedies of a Tony Conigliaro and the intentionally violent plays at the plate and occasionally at the bases), but football is different, but I'm not ready to accept Ann's "rite of passsage" thoughts. I still think it might be able to be safer, but it's too much TEAM fun to be dismissed.

Notre Dame should take great pride in the fact that they are ranked #1 in both the BCS standings and the graduation rankings.Unfortunately, they have some work to do in the area of the Faith, as they remain unranked in the latest edition of the "Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College."The rankings can be viewed at the link (just scroll down until you get to the rankings):http://allhands-ondeck.blogspot.com/2012/11/cadinal-newman-society-publi...

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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.