Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lessons Learned from the Love and Hate for Notre Dame Football

Someone once said the opposite of love is apathy, but a die-hard sports fan knows that's not true. It's hate. Sports is no stranger to the face of hatred. Hate rears its ugly head in the face of a rival—at his or her success, or can be seen in oneself—for failing to get the job done. Failure is ugly, but I'm here to say that hate is uglier. 
Notre Dame Football is 7-0. The Fightin' Irish are now ranked number three in the nation. I have been treading lightly at work, among football fans, around the gym and beyond—knowing that things can change very quickly. I have yet to brag, trash talk or even hold my head remotely high. And still, or reasons I don't completely understand, I find that some sports fans want me to offer some sort of an apology. "For winning?" I ask. One colleague made sure I was aware how lucky we were to get the "W" in two games (true). Another wanted me to admit ND isn't that good (I don't know what to say. Winning close games is crucial). I've been told that this coming weekend, like the past three contests, is a "trap game"—and we should watch out (NB: not every game can be a trap game....that works against its definition). I've been a Notre Dame fan for most of my life, so predicaments such as these aren't unfamiliar to me. But, they aren't fun either. Perhaps you understand. The tension, animosity, snarky comments, and even suspicion remind me of the weight that comes with being loyal to someone or something...of having a passion and sharing it with the world. The face of hate has served as an invitation to examine something I love.

I love Notre Dame football because it offers a very public face of my alma mater, one that demands my attention and calls me to think of what's happening on campus from September through (hopefully) January. Football is ethically complex and it's athletically fascinating. The plays, passes, runs, tackles, kicks and catches—though violent can be beautiful. Each player does his job in his own way, and yet there are an unwavering standard and expectation for how that ought to be done at Notre Dame. The team is comprised of student-athletes who live, study, party and pray in the same places and spaces I did. In the movie Concussion, Dr. Joseph Maroon says "Football is the most popular sport in America because it is so goddamn fantastic. And that, right there? [points out the window to Heinz Field] That is the beating heart of this city." Though he speaks of Pittsburgh, PA, his words are equally true in South Bend, IN. Notre Dame Stadium is a heart that beats loudly—too loudly for some.
Though I am the first to concede I carry an immense bias—my love for the Irish runneth too deep—I am not entirely blind, deaf or dumb for why people do not share my affection for this team. Some of the reasons for hate include: the national television coverage of games—even in the lean years, the inflated(?) relentless expectations of its fan base to be in contention for a national title every year, the over-zealous, overly-loyal alumni that want you to know within five minutes of meeting them that they went to Notre Dame. I'll stop here for one reason, and it's not that I don't "get it" OR that you can read a book on the topic. No, it's that as much as I understand some of the distaste or misgivings for Notre Dame football, I also believe hate should not be confused with other sentiments.

Many people, including me, struggle with jealousy, envy, and the inability to celebrate the success of others from time to time. We are limited beings. We compare and we contrast. No one can have it all, but sometimes it appears as though others do. Sports is just one place where truth—this component of our humanity—is revealed. 

I don't gloat over ND's success in football, ever (though I may want to). I (almost always) let another person say to me "great win!" or "how about them Irish?!" FIRST. These words serve as an invitation for me to express my joy and gratitude. Many times, I want to thank the person who initiates a conversation about this topic—one that I love so much. 

Hate has never been necessary for me to understand my passion, but it has helped me examine it in a new light. I wish I could say "let the haters, hate" but that's not really how I feel. Go ahead—jar and jab, pinch and prod, but let's allow for respect, understanding, and appreciation IN SPITE of our differences trump all. No hate is necessary.

Photo Credits
Dan Devine Quote

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