Thursday, October 28

The Negligence at Notre Dame is Not a Sports Story...

Today many people in sports are discussing the unfortunate death of a Notre Dame student, but it's not a sports story. The fact that the young man was filming the football team is largely irrelevant. Work Place Safety is the phrase people should be discussing. Much of the anger at Notre Dame lies in deep-seeded dislike for the University not, in all cases, true outrage over the incident. The problem for Notre Dame is quite simple. Someone knew, someone had to know, someone gets paid to know better. That young man never should have been in that tower. Whether he was recording football practice or a theatre production, he... wait. He wouldn't have been up in a scissor lift in 50 mph winds for a play or a musical. Therein lies the sports story.

For generations Notre Dame has painted itself, not always inaccurately, as a special place, a different place. Sadly, they've proved they're very much like a lot of other places, they prioritized football over the safety of a student. Football is King. Some of the horror stories from the south have proven that over the years, but Notre Dame is supposed to be special. Where athletes room with regular students and academics and character stand for more than most. As tarnished as the UNC brand has become over the last several months, ND may have done even more damage.

Notre Dame bought into the overinflated sense of self-importance that football coaches and players carry around with them daily. Someone at Notre Dame who knew the dangers and risks involved with putting that young man in that scissor lift ignored both OSHA and manufacturer recommendations, regulations and warnings regarding high winds. All in the name of football. All in the name of a 4-4 football team that has an indoor practice facility.

That Jim Tressel, Ohio State's head coach, expressed concerns for his cameramen just a day prior will not help Notre Dame's case, but another instance from earlier this very year illustrates the football over safety mentality that coaches often operate under. The Denver Broncos had a practice in May (May people! May!) with high winds including gusts over 70 MPH and head coach Josh McDaniels noted that he was concerned about the cameraman in the swaying 30-foot-high scissor lift, but not enough to let him come down until after practice.

Football players have to constantly convince themselves of the importance of the "mission", how else could they willingly launch their bodies into the fray to take such physical abuse again and again. Coaches often have a similar mission first mindset that makes them appear callous and dismissive of things not directly related to the mission. Why do so many coaches not go out onto the field when a player is injured? Because they have to stay focused on the game plan, because an injured player cannot help with the task at hand, because they're the one who sent the young man onto the field where he was hurt, why? The reason certainly differs for all coaches, but there's an element of bravado, of not wanting to appear weak, of not wanting their other players to be concerned with their own safety. It's why players fight to get their helmets back after injuries, its why team doctors get yelled at by coaches for holding a kid out, it's why the very players whose lives could be made better after football by a rule designed to protect them rail against it. They believe winning football is the most important thing, even though in nearly all cases the impact of winning or losing is far greater in their mind than in actuality. It's part of the make-up needed by many to convince themselves to keep playing or coaching. Unfortunately, in Notre Dame's case someone was blinded by this football first mindset, that players and coaches need to be protected from in many cases, and it cost a young man his life. The accident isn't about sports, but it's all about sports too.


Cleet said...

Last paragraph rings true. Coming from a place where certain ideals are said to be held above any other pursuits, the people who want football to be the end all have way, WAY too much influence.

the EPA said...

He died at practice. Not a game, not a game, but practice.

It's a good thing ND allum have deep pockets because if I was the parents I'd sue the university back to the days when touchdown Jesus carried me along the shoreline.

Cleet said...

the EPA, always thinking dollars.

Catfish said...

Felt it rang really hollow when the AD came out and said a big gust of wind came through just before it toppled. As if to say, otherwise, we would've been fine ignoring the OSHA regulations and the scissor lift swaying side to side. Guess you have to CYA, even when a young man dies.

Gold dome looking a little more like brass.