Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Learning a Lesson in the Hardest Way

I love sports, they’re great. And sometimes they can be a lot more important than people give them credit for.

But life is about a lot more than sports, and it’s crucial to remember that, in the end, sports are just games. They’re just games.

Last week at Notre Dame, those last simple facts got lost somewhere when junior Declan Sullivan was killed in a fall from a tower where he was videotaping a football practice. Heavy winds, reported at 51 miles per hour by the National Weather Service, appeared to cause the tower to give way.

A lot of the time, tragedies don’t come packaged with obvious “should haves,”could haves” or “would haves.” A lot of the time, tragedies just happen.

But Declan Sullivan’s death wasn’t one of those tragedies. His accident was all too avoidable and all too senseless, and it demands Notre Dame football and the world of sports in general to take a good, hard look in the mirror and to re-examine where they fall on the spectrum of what’s really important in life.

To clarify, football – not even Notre Dame football – is not what’s really important in life. It’s more important to some individuals’ lives than to others’ for purposes of careers and otherwise unattainable opportunities, but it’s not what’s really important. It may give athletes, coaches and other professionals the chance to make a living or get an education, and it may give fans the chance to immerse themselves in something more enjoyable than the next-best alternative, but football isn’t life. It’s not even close.

For Declan Sullivan, videotaping Notre Dame’s football practice from an unstable tower in 51-mph winds must have seemed very important. For whatever reason, he didn’t come down from the tower. Something – maybe the passion he had for his job, maybe a hesitation about explaining to his superior that he didn’t feel safe – kept him up there. According to his Facebook status updates and Tweets in the hours before his fatal accident, Sullivan was scared and knew he might be in serious danger. But he was young, zealous and dedicated to videotaping Notre Dame football practice, so he didn’t come down.

More disturbingly, Head Coach Brian Kelly didn’t make him come down.

Kelly, who had held practice indoors for the first time in his tenure at Notre Dame earlier in the week, decided to bring his players and coaches outdoors for practice on Wednesday despite the potentially hazardous conditions.

Maybe the safety of Declan Sullivan wasn’t the first thing on Kelly’s mind. It probably wasn’t. And that’s the problem with this picture: Football isn’t life, and it isn’t worth a life. It’s not even worth putting a life at risk.

But everyone involved in the decision to hold Notre Dame football practice outdoors last Wednesday and have Sullivan videotape it from that tower got caught up in the perceived importance of their game and forgot about what really matters.

What really mattered that day was the safety of everyone involved in Notre Dame football. It mattered that they didn’t get seriously injured, that they made it home to their families and friends, that they preserved the lives they had built and the hopes they had for the future for another day.

What didn’t matter was working on the Fighting Irish’s two-minute drill or blocking schemes. And one can only imagine that in the aftermath, this has become all too clear to Kelly, the Notre Dame football program, the university and the greater world of sports.

Sports aren’t life-or-death matters. They’re just games, and any time that sports and death meet, it’s a tragedy. As someone who loves sports and dedicates much of his time to them in a variety of ways, I can understand Sullivan’s commitment to his job. But his heartbreaking death still screams the oft-overlooked fact that life away from the game is immeasurably more important than life within it.

Connor Gregoire is a sophomore in the College. FOR LOVE OF THE GAME appears every third issue of HOYA SPORTS.

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