Last weekend, Notre Dame beat Clemson in a football game that went into Double OT. After that game, students stormed the field in celebration – – and in violation of campus regulations about gatherings in these days of COVID-19. Many folks pointed to this behavior as partial confirmation that young folks cannot always be expected to behave responsibly and with long-term judgment. Other social pundits suggested that this demonstration showed that there should not be any problem with opening up stadiums and arenas to fans for sporting events – – even in these days of COVID-19. While I do not completely buy into either extreme interpretation of that display of emotion last weekend, I am more inclined toward the former than the latter.
The President of Notre Dame – The Rev. John Jenkins who has himself previously tested positive for COVID-19 – took the situation for what it was and then acted. A former colleague once described “leadership” in this way:
“Leadership is when you act positively and forcefully to do what you know to be right.”
If you happen to agree with my former colleague – as I do – then Rev. Jenkins demonstrated leadership this week. Basically, he sent a letter to every student at Notre Dame. He said that he was disappointed by their behavior which violated campus regulations and that he has heard from local health officials that some of the students have been less than fastidious in adhering to those COVID-19 protocols during the semester. Faced with that situation – and in light of his contracting the virus in a venue where he was not fully attentive to common sense COVID-19 protocols – Rev. Jenkins acted to support what he knows to be right.
- Virus testing for students is now to be expanded – – and it will be mandatory. The penalty for not being tested is that students will not be allowed to register for Spring classes nor will they be able to access their transcripts. He presents a simple choice for students and sets forth a clear and strict consequence for failure to comply.
- Moreover, students are not to leave the campus in South Bend to go home for the holidays until they have been tested AND have gotten the results back on those tests. The same sanction applies here; violate this rule and the student records will be frozen.
- Finally, there are rules in place about social gatherings involving students on campus and off-campus. Rev. Jenkins has declared a zero-tolerance policy for violations of those rules and protocols saying that hosts of such event will face “severe sanctions”.
I mentioned that Rev. Jenkins has himself tested positive for COVID-19. He was one of the people in attendance in the White House Rose Garden ceremony where Justice Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice. Put aside any sociopolitical views for a moment; Justice Barrett was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Notre Dame’s law school and Justice Barrett has been on the faculty of the Notre Dame law school for almost 20 years. Rev. Jenkins’ presence at that swearing in ceremony was proper and respectful; he was there at least in part to represent Notre Dame University – the institution that he heads.
What puts Rev. Jenkins in a “dicey situation” is that it appears that he contracted the coronavirus at that “super-spreader event” where he was photographed “mask-less and shaking hands” with others in attendance. It is easy to argue that Rev. Jenkins should have known better and that he was not “leading by example” in that situation. He has taken his lumps in the court of public opinion on that matter and now I think it is time to recognize that he knows what is right and he knows that what he did was wrong. Moreover, he is not going to retreat from doing the right thing now because it might bring more embarrassment to him. Metaphorically, he is willing to pick the scab off that previous injury because there is an underlying infection that needs treatment now.
I could accuse Rev. Jenkins of hypocrisy here, but I choose not to do that. I think he did the wrong thing in the White House Rose Garden, recognized his mistake and moved forward in a positive direction. Kudos to Rev. Jenkins…
Let me switch gears here and talk about one of Notre Dame’s football rivals – – the University of Michigan. The football program there and the athletic department/administration have a situation that seems balanced on a knife edge. Consider:
- Jim Harbaugh has been the coach there for five-and-a-half years and his contract expires at the end of the 2021 season.
- He – and the Wolverines by extension – will face a recruiting disadvantage this year and possibly next year if Harbaugh is a lame duck coach without a contract extension.
- A contract extension will not come cheap to the school and in these times of COVID-19, even the big-time football programs are not flush with cash.
- Moreover, Michigan right now is an embarrassing 1-2 with losses to rival Michigan State (who has already lost to Rutgers and gotten blown away by Iowa) and to Indiana (a team that last beat Michigan in 1987). Selling a contract extension of any kind – let alone an expensive one – in these circumstances would not be easy.
- During Harbaugh’s time at Michigan, the Wolverines have gone 3-3 against rival Michigan State and have gone 0-5 against Ohio State. Those results might not motivate some deep-pocketed alums to chip in to extend the coach.
If there is a fairy tale solution to that dicey situation in Ann Arbor, it would be for the NY Jets to fire Adam Gase at the end of this year (highly likely) and to come calling for Harbaugh to be the guy to rebuild the Jets franchise in the Meadowlands. Just tossing it out there…
Finally, here is an item from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle regarding sports and the coronavirus:
“Scientists and medical experts say masks are effective for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but tinfoil hats are not. Still, many sports figures prefer the hats.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………