Just when Irish fans felt things could not get any worse after being embarrassed by an undersized Navy Football team, they experience one of the most tragic moments I have ever encountered in all my years covering Notre Dame Football.
Declan Sullivan, the 20 year old Notre Dame student, was killed this week as he was taping practice sessions in a scissor lift over 30 ft in the air with winds over 50 mph. He tweeted and facebooked how "terrifying" the experience was on the lift and less than 20 minutes later, the lift tiped over, sending Sullivan to his death.
An ongoing investigation is taking place on the campus of Notre Dame, but regardless of "their" findings people must be held accountable. In a time where much of the focus in college football is being placed on inappropriate relationships with agents, academic eligibility and recruiting violations players as well as coaches have been facing the fire with the NCAA. While Notre Dame has done a marvelous job of keeping its student athletes and coaches out of trouble; this Wednsday they will answer to another four letter team, not the NCAA, but OSHA. This is an issue that should have Notre Dame seriously evaluating the future of Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and Head Football Coach Brian Kelly.
After the school held a press conference to honor Declan Sullivan and talk about the incident, Swarbrick talked about being at the football field five minutes prior to Sullivan's death. He also said that a surprising and large gust of wind came and then he heard a crash. When the winds are over 50 mph, some weather outlets saying it was closer to 60 mph, how can there be "one" strong gust of wind. It sounds to the general public that Notre Dame is more focused on covering themselves than figuring out what exactly went wrong.
Why Kelly? Why Swarbrick? They probably did not tell Declan to go up the lift and tape the practice so why should they be held responsible? While this question has merit, I would say that when you are being paid over a million dollars a year, while other faculty with a laundry list of PhD's and other certifications would be lucky to break six figures, your responsibility must be pretty high. Even if Kelly did not tell Declan to get on the lift, which he probably did not, it would be a great lie to say he was not conscious of the fact that he was up there. Mike Golic from Mike and Mike in the morning said that his two sons who play for Notre Dame saw everything, so the reports saying that many of the coaches had no idea he was up there is blatantly false. I do not blame Kelly for Sullivan's death, or anybody in particular, as it was an accident; however, when it comes down to who is responsible at the end of the day it is those who are in charge: Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly.
The fact that a student at Notre Dame would be directed to go up a lift that is not certified to handle over 20 mph winds and film a practice with 50 mph and higher is inexuseable. This became even more evident when Jim Tressel, Head Coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, said that he was not going to practice outside because he we was worried about his cameramen that were going to be 50ft in the air. Notre Dame was obviously not thinking, decided to practice outdoors in these harsh conditions, and as a result a 20 year old student was killed.
The primary attacks that have been placed on Notre Dame around the media are who let this kid get on the lift and why were they practicing outside when they have a multi-million dollar indoor facility for times like this. Brian Kelly should never put his players and staff in a situation that risks their safety whether he is directly or indirectly involved. Secondly, Coach Kelly should, under no circumstances, have the ability to put his players and staff in this type of harm. The Athletic Director should have said that all practices would be either canceled or moved indoors. Lastly, if the student was terrified as he was, why did he not feel comfortable telling someone and getting off the lift. This proves to me that he was not up there on his own will, but someone had told him to go up there; someone he was obviously afraid of disappointing.
While all the attention is on Declan and what happened on that lift, there are no questions talking about the general safety of this team. If a lift was able to fall over given these winds then just imagine what else could have happen at that practice? What if the lift had fallen the other way and onto the practice field killing more people?
As the investigation continues, it is my sincere hope that Notre Dame takes a long hard look at the people running the athletic program and the football team and make sure these are the people you want representing your school. People who would allow this tragedy to happen should not be making millions of dollars and certainly to not deserve the honor to work with these kids.