Should Catholics root for Notre Dame’s football team

Michael Leahy takes a long hard look at Notre Dame’s football program and its iconic status among some American Catholics in a piece for the On Faith section of The Washington Post. He writes:

It was perhaps inevitable that the school and the football team, two of the church’s paramount American symbols, would come to be viewed with a mix of weariness and cynicism by a new generation. To some Catholics, Notre Dame is that righteous relative who arrives at the holiday dinner beating his chest over his fealty and good deeds — the one there to remind others at the table that they have not measured up.

But when the Fighting Irish football program veers off its moral course without incurring tough penalties, piety is a poor substitute for propriety. Notre Dame football has never suffered through crippling NCAA sanctions or a debilitating scandal. But that does not mean its reputation hasn’t suffered black marks in recent years, suggesting a disconnect between Notre Dame’s image and its actions.

In 2010, a student at St. Mary’s College, the all-female school across the street from Notre Dame, committed suicide after she said she had been sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player (reportedly still on the team), leaving friends and observers to question whether the university abdicated its responsibility to truth and the young woman in moving on with little action or explanation.

And the same year, a Notre Dame undergraduate serving as a videographer for the football team lost his life when the high platform that held him collapsed in a bad wind. (The team had practiced indoors the day before because of the gusty weather.) His family never has filed suit. Talk about Irish luck. More like Teflon.

As a former sportswriter, I am uncertain that coaches and athletes’ transgressions are swept under the rug more quickly at Notre Dame than they are elsewhere, but that they are swept under the rug at all should dispel some of the aura around the program.

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  1. They are, of course, a football program at a university, not a company of saints. In essence they should be treated the same as any other football program (which means severely when it comes to sexual misconduct, IMHO). If Roman Catholics follow Notre Dame, it’s because religion weaves into peoples’ cultural identities. What would it be like if Episcopalians had more of that sense?

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