Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough

It's Wednesday night. This blog post should be about how disappointed I was by the Irish loss to Navy last Saturday.

Instead, tonight I am a sickened, saddened, and angry Notre Dame parent.

A Notre Dame student died needlessly and senselessly today, in an accident that never should have happened. Declan Sullivan, a junior at the University, was filming Notre Dame's football practice from atop a scissor lift when it "fell" over, causing his death. "Fell" is an interesting word to use in this context. "Fell" obscures the fact that there also just happened to be 50 m.p.h. winds blowing in the South Bend area today. I wonder if those high winds might have had anything to do with why the lift "fell"?

Actually, I don't wonder that at all. It seems pretty clear to me that the high winds blew the tower over. It also seems pretty clear to me that neither Declan Sullivan nor anyone else should have been on top of a scissor lift in those conditions. I live and work in Southern California. I wasn't in South Bend today. But even I knew about the severe weather there the past couple of days.

My daughter sent me a text message early Tuesday morning telling me about the tornado warnings that had her entire dorm hunkering down in their chapel waiting for the "all clear." I saw on the internet this afternoon the reports of very high winds in the South Bend area. I actually sent my daughter a tongue-in-cheek text message about it. My text read: "I hope you are tethered to something sturdy so the wind doesn't carry you away!" That was at 12:27 p.m. Pacific time, which is 3:27 Eastern. About an hour and twenty minutes before the lift "fell over."

I haven't been able to confirm it, but the rumor among the students is that Declan had expressed serious concern about going up onto the lifts before practice began on Wednesday afternoon.

As a parent of a Notre Dame student, I am panic-stricken at the thought of a phone call from the University telling me that something has happened to our daughter. I know that to some degree kids will be kids and that they can get themselves into trouble. The Administration can't always protect the students from themselves. But how many coaches and other University representatives were attending practice today without anyone speaking up about what seems to me to have been an obvious danger? Coach Kelly and Jack Swarbrick and many others will have many questions to answer, and heads should roll. Well compensated heads should roll. I'm not talking about the lead student manager, or the head of the video department.

The University will be holding a Mass of Remembrance for Declan Sullivan on Thursday night. Coach Brian Kelly said in a brief statement that "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Declan's family and friends."

Am I the only one who feels that "Thoughts and Prayers" are not enough?

A family lost their boy. A son. A brother. A Notre Dame man. Lost because nobody had the good sense to speak up and say "Hey, maybe we shouldn't put anybody up on the towers today. I don't think it's safe."

Are we really just going to have a Mass of Remembrance and a moment of silence and then play football on Saturday?

I'm not sure we should. I can't speak for the players, or for the students. But as I type this I just don't feel that it would be right to play a football game at Notre Dame this week. I think it would trivialize this tragic loss and would fairly open the University to criticism about its priorities. Given what he was doing when he died, I have no doubt that Notre Dame football was important to Declan. But it was not worth his life. And if the Fighting Irish play football this Saturday I would wonder myself whether the University of Notre Dame was placing football and a big pay day ahead of its students and the need to truly pay proper respects for the loss suffered by the Sullivan family.

And it won't change my mind if the University and NBC trot out the cliche' that "Declan would have wanted us to play the game."

Of course my thoughts and prayers go out to the Sullivan family. But really it is my heart that goes out to them. I cannot imagine the pain and the grief they are feeling, and I find that beyond the sadness and the grief what I feel most is anger on their behalf. Because it never should have happened.

Note: Before you write it in the comments, let me say that I was not at the football practice. I don't yet know all the facts. But I know what I feel. This post is about what I feel right now. Maybe I will learn that the University did in fact take all reasonable steps to ensure Declan's safety atop the lift in 50 m.p.h. winds. I hope I find that out. But I'm not holding my breath.


Anonymous said...

This kid is a true hero. Talk about dedication, comitment, and sacrifice. He literally gave his life for Notre Dame football. This should be an inspiration for others involved in the program to examine what they are willing to do for Irish football. I hope at the very least a statue...a monument if you will... is erected in his memory.
ND Dad & Granddad

Anonymous said...

Are you serious? The original poster raises the correct point, we need to press for answers and accountabilty around taking "practice in the conditions" to a deadly extreme

Mike D. said...

I read where he tweeted that winds were blowing 50 to 60 miles an hour and that he was concerned about being in the lift. Later on in the lift he was clearly scared. Should never have gone up......

Anonymous said...

This is unbelievably tragic. I too feel incredibly sad for this young man's family. Where was the "In loco parentis" in this situation? While I can't say this for sure, he went up there in these conditions, besides his own better judgement, because he felt a loyalty to the University. And, that if it really was dangerous some responsible Adult member of the staff would not let him do it.

Anonymous said...

In view of all of the ND players most recent series of injuries, I've been asking, for a few weeks now(to whomever would listen)if this could possibly be due to coaches practicing these young men, too hard, too fast and too long(ex. Kyle Rudolph, just for starters.), all for the sake of a win?
Now, of course, all of this pales in the light of the most tragic death of Declan Sullivan.
And my question looms ever so much louder. This, for the price of a win? Dear God, I hope I'm so very wrong.
Believing our God to comfort the family and all who loved Declan.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I am a student at notre dame and was walking into the work out facility near the practice field before the accident and it was clearly evident that the lifts had no business being up. A previous lift had already toppled over but repelled off a goal post prior to the awful accident. They visibly saw that the lifts were unsteady. Also, they have 2 permeant towers available on the sides of the fields that we being unused because of " the lack of a good angle of the set up?" RIDICULOUS!!!! Notre dame needs to step up with a good media lawyer in order to prep the athletic department with more appropriate responses

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this article.
The idea that Kelly would resume practice after the death of Declan is incomprehensible...and totally disgusting. He--Coach Kelly--is the responsible party here. The manufacturer of this "tower" said it is not safe in winds in excess of 28 mph. Yet, they allowed Declan to go up there anyway. He texted that he was terrified, among other things. This is football--not war. The people on the field are playing a game, not protecting our nation. It's not as if they had to keep fighting in order to save their own lives and those of their fellow "soldiers." Nope. They were practicing a game. The loss of a human life--a young man who was filming THEIR practice--was insignificant. Where is human decency here? There is none. And, that "none" begins with Kelly. He should be fired...immediately. If not, the players on the team who are "real men," should refuse to play this Saturday. Everyone who has an ounce of decency in them should boycott this Saturday's game.

I applaud Jamie Dixon of Pitt for his heroic actions a few days ago in stopping and helping the victims of an auto accident. Where is that attitude at Notre Dame? A Christian school? Hah!

May God bless and comfort the Sullivan family.

Anonymous said...

Tough play or not. There is NO easy answer. I gave it a quick thought last night and my 1st reaction was to play the game. Hopefully most of the team can attend the funeral. Sad, very sad.

Jim R said...

I agree, those words used felt so scripted. I feel the guilt, because I,ve driven by those fields before, and if I had driven by and saw that lift up with someone on there I think I would have told them get him off. I just can't believe no one spoke up, players, reporters, especially the coaches. I've been up on those lifts 30' indoors and they rock back and forth. My heart is broken for his parents, sister who attends ND. The wind can strengthen roots...and also tear lives apart. In time God will heal all wounds for those who seek Him.

Anonymous said...

A voice of reason and justifiable anger in the face of a senseless, inexplicable loss.

Anonymous said...

You all are making me sick. Calling for heads to roll, someone has to be accountable. And you don't even know the details of what happenned! This is the problem with our country as whole. People opening their big mouths without facts to back them up. This is the problem with our litigious society, full of lawyers. I understand the writer of this article stated he's "writing how he feels" without all the facts. Just claiming that doesn't take away your gross irresponsibility. Let's just fuel the fire and start a witchhunt becuase I'm angry damnit. Stupid. In time we'll know all the facts. And I'm guessing no one intentionally put the kid in harms way. Someone may have made a mistake and it's a tragic accident. My heart does go out to the kids family, and the kid's soul. Why doesn't everyone take a deep breath and wait for the details to emerge.

As far as the game, it should definitely go on. You're going to punish the players of both teams for this accident? That makes no sense. The ND players will probably want to play to get their minds off the tragedy.

And the post about practicing too hard leading to injuries? Have you ever played football? It's a rough sport, you get injuries. You play how you practice. If you don't practice hard you won't play hard. This team is not used to Kelly's up tempo style with a lot of running, and they never will be if you don't push them.

The mental fortitude of some of you is frightening. It was a horrible tragic loss and he should be mourned. But life doesn't stop because of tragedy. Hopefully his death will lead improvements going forward and save the life of another caught in a similar situation. Hopefully his death will lead to inspiration in others and improve the world going forward. But we need to keep going forward.

Anonymous said...

Scissor lift company says that lifts should not be operated in winds of 25 mph or more.

Anonymous said...

To the person who wrote the last comment about this "making him sick," well, it's all about responsibility and accountability. Who is ultimately responsible for this young man's death? It doesn't take much analysis to figure that one out; nor, does it take much analysis to realize the conditions were much too dangerous to have anyone up in such a lift. The game should not go on. There should be some honor and dignity, as well as accountability, for a senseless death.

Grow up and face the circumstances of your actions, Brian Kelly.

And, Notre Dame, show some "class" for a change instead of only being concerned about $$$$.

Anonymous said...

It is very disrespectful to Declan and his family to post an angry article (or angry comments)regarding the student's death literally hours after the incident. Please respect his grieving family and those that loved him by not turning this tragedy into a blame game. Whether or not the game is played on Saturday is irrelevant, I assure you that fact is not on the short list of concerns for the Sullivan family. You did not know Declan, let those that did grieve in peace.

Thank you,

ND Grad '09

Anonymous said...

Proof that Coach Kelly isn't a human being: resuming practice after student dies during it. He should be fired. If it were a football player, he would have already been fired or resigned.

Anonymous said...

I'm outraged that Coach Kelly continued practice only a few minutes after this fatal accident!What an insult to the family of this poor boy. Where is the respect and compassion for the loss of a student's life, Coach Kelly? At ND, football is more important . You hear about Notre Dame family all of the time...what a joke!

Anonymous said...

For anybody calling for BK's head and the game to be cancelled, you are just a troll trying to stir the pot. Accidents happen. RIP to this young man and prayers to his family and friends.

Anonymous said...

To that last poster; yes, accidents happen. This, however, was an irresponsible accident that never should have occurred and it cost a young man his LIFE.

Furthermore, Brian Kelly RESUMED PRACTICE...minutes after this happened. How AWFUL and CALLOUS is that?!

I know you are just doing your "job," as you must be a Notre Dame administrator who was asked to respond to these blogs.

In this case, I am happy to be a "troll," as this pot definitely needs to be stirred.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain what this is entirely BK's fault, and why he should be fired for it, and why he is not a human being for resuming practice?

What was the appropriate response? and why would they cancel the game?

When there is a football player that dies other schools don't cancel the game that week.

There are too many posts written in anger that just don't make any sense. Thoughts and prayers are enough becasue God takes care of everything!

Rob Tenniswood said...

First, let me say Declan's death is shocking, and even though I heard about it last night, it still hasn't settled in for me. I agree on a few points the author made, namely that the University's reaction was insufficient by a mile. As a double domer, I spent 6 years there (and as the son of a faculty member, I've been a member of the ND family most of my life), and I've had the unfortunate experience of having been there during a couple of other student deaths. I've seen that email that Fr. Jenkins sent out before, and it makes me think that he didn't know Declan at all. I don't think that a moment of silence and a canned email will cover it. Notre Dame has held moments of silence in the past in memory of the victims of various natural disasters, etc. I don't mean to diminish the loss of life in these events, but Declan is a part of the Notre Dame family. He deserves more. Should the game be played, I don't know. What I do know is that if it were me, I would absolutely want that game played. But the university has to do more than a moment of silence in his honor. Start a scholarship fund, endow an FTT faculty position in his honor - do something to effect the change at Notre Dame that he himself would have made if this hadn't happened. Silence and money aren't going to be enough - the University has the duty to honor the legacy that Declan never had a chance to establish.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this blog. I agree completely. I am deeply saddened for this family and irate at the University and Brian Kelly. The fact they put students' lives ahead of the football team is a absolute disgrace. It sickens me. These parents left their son in the hands of the University and this is what they get.

Anonymous said...

None of you know whether that was the full reaction of the school. It was mentioned that his family was on campus last night. Do any of you know whether the family might have said "play the game"? Wild accusations and headhunting without facts does not serve any purpose. Not a one of you knows what the university is doing for his family.

Anonymous said...

I think that most of us are reacting with raw emotion right now. We have lost one of our own and it is a senseless death. Let's be careful when assigning blame. We don't know all the facts yet. Coach Kelly did continue practice for 25-30 minutes after the accident and then stopped practice. I suppose that when word got to him about the seriousness of this tragedy, practice was halted immediately.

I pray for peace and strenghth for his family and friends.

G Patton said...

I'm sure there is blame to go around, and for some more than others. Shouldn't we wait for the details before making such determinations? For example, I read that death of this young man occurred at the hospital. Continuing practice after an injured student was taken to the hospital is much different than continuing practice after a student died at the scene. I'm as angry as others who have commented, but let's wait until all the facts are on the table before coming to conclusions.

Anonymous said...

The team should have Sullivan on the back of every jersey this weekend, not decals

Irish_Wertzy said...

As for the comments on BK resuming practice, I assume you were all on the field and know exactly what happened? Or are you relying on the "eyewitness" reports of someone that was in the area but also not in the practice.

There have been students that were in the area that posted that the team was headed into the Gug 5 minutes after it collapsed.

One on here said that it was ridiculous that BK resumed practice 5 min after someone died at practice. Simlple fact check would reveal that Declan passed at the hospital. There are also reports that had BK at the scene until Declan left in the ambulance. After the lift blew over (I agree that "fell" is probably not right), trainers, players, coaches, managers, medical staff etc all went towards the scene of the accident. In any other accident situation, the police/people in charge often try to clear people away from the scene. What good does having all those people standing around watching? So, BK told his coaches to get the players back on the field. And?

Hindsight is 20/20, and opinions are like a$$holes: everyone has one, and most of em stink.

I advise everyone to stop, consider the terrible situation that the Sullivan family is in. Then, delete your posts until about 1 month from now, whcn the invesigation is complete.

Thank you.

Irish89 said...

Even if your "feelings" are born out in fact, can't you once, just for once, separate your legal education from your humanity. Do you need a filter or something? We are a nation of laws, not men, yes. But this rush to legal point of view, even under the "emotional" attempt at self awareness on your part, is what makes people so annoyed with your profession. Please, work on this.

Anonymous said...

Yes. It's all about context and timing. Read Ecclesiastes one more time.

Anonymous said...

"Lawyers, UGH" is right. I couldn't help but notice that OC Domer commented that "highly compensated heads must roll". He's probably already thinking about a lawsuit and all those deep, deep pockets. Let the poor child rest and give his family some peace.
Somebody may have used very poor judgment, they will have to live with it.
OC Domer, please leave your ambulance chasing tendencies in Orange County, California.

Anonymous said...

Those of you have ripped Kelly for continuing practice after the accident, owe Kelly an apology.
Kelly along with the Jack S had the players go to a different area while they stayed with DeClan until he was taken away. They then went to the players and sent them to the locker room.
TBone 1966

Anonymous said...

does't the student have some responsibilty in this? i'm pretty sure they weren't standing there pointing a gun at him to keep him up there. if i feel i'm in an unsafe situation i get out of there.