Remembering Declan Sullivan

Posted: October 19th, 2011 | by:
Categories: All the non football stuff, General Sports, Irish

One week from today will mark the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of Notre Dame student Declan Sullivan.  I remember the gut-wrenching feeling that came over me when I learned that a student had died while filming practice because a lift had blown over.  How did this happen?  Why was he up there in dangerously high winds?  And of course my thoughts and prayers immediately went out to the Sullivan family and the loss they must continue to endure.

The official inquiry into the causes of Declan’s death found a systemic breakdown in the decision-making process allowing students up in the lifts.  People at all levels of the athletic department and the administration, up to and including Fr. Jenkins, Coach Kelly, and Jack Swarbrick, were found to share in the responsibility.  Changes have been instituted.  We can only hope that these changes will prevent anything similar from happening again.

But apart from the specifics of this event, remembering this horrible accident places things like athletics and our society’s obsession with it in  perspective.  I would like to think that Notre Dame would stand as  place of relative sanity in the high-pressure world of big-time college football.  Do we really need high angle film from practice to analyze?  Is it really that important?  But then again, who am I to point fingers?  I feed into the frenzy even more than the ordinary fan by writing a stupid football blog.   What is wrong with my priorities?  In what way did I contribute to this horrible event by supporting a football-obsessed culture?  (Remember kids the word “fan” comes from “fanatic.”)

I don’t think we need to give up our fandom.  Though I never knew him, I don’t think Declan would want that either.  But it isn’t too much to ask to remember Declan Sullivan on the anniversary of his death and examine how much our collective priorities contributed to this tragedy and how we might try to change, even a little bit.  To remember that football is just a game.  To step back and consider what kinds of pressures we are putting on our athletes, coaches, and support staff, in the name of winning.  To listen to that quiet voice inside yourself and say, “this is a line we can’t cross” or “it can’t be so important to risk this.”  And then have the courage to take those steps or not cross that line.

Wow, I didn’t even mean to write this much, and I’m still unsure of the tone that I’m striking even now.  I just wanted to remember a kid I never knew, not put people on a guilt trip.  By all accounts Declan was a good kid with a bright future who loved Notre Dame.  So one year later, I’m lighting my virtual candle for him.  God’s peace be with you, Declan Sullivan.

UPDATE: Notre Dame has just announced a new scholarship in Sullivan’s honor.

UPDATE 2: Here is a link to make an online contribution to the scholarship fund.

One Response. Leave Yours?

  1. Steve In Iowa

    The Observer ran a very nice piece for the anniversary and the memorial that the University made for Declan.

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