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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Why Going to Notre Dame to Glamorize Their Football Team Is Bad for Them

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It’s ritual that sticks out on campus even when someone is wearing a mask.

Notre Dame President John Jenkins has, for decades, waddled out onto the bandstand here at the Student Center — in full, iron-faced, French rugby uniform — to perform the traditional tranversal. “When we raise the flag,” he says, his voice pounding above the patter of band members with percussion sticks, “we’re fully masking ourselves as a unit.”

The ritual, mandated by the Irish rugby team, involves dressing in full ghillie suit, complete with boxing gloves, helmet and mask.

It’s had to be done at least once a semester since I am a first-year student at Notre Dame. And even though my classmates and I aren’t stinking up the joint or causing people to faint, I think it’s a fairly stupid obligation because I can barely make it out of the bandroom. Maybe that’s why athletes do this, so other students don’t beat them in the spirit of sharing their masks.

Maybe not. Perhaps this college student, in a post-Trump era, feels a little less self-conscious. Notre Dame, after all, has been having some problems with its first female president.

At the end of September, someone at Notre Dame campus security reportedly discovered Mr. Jenkins had cut up his anti-Trump hat and put it in his pocket. An Associated Press reporter traveling with Mr. Jenkins on a trade mission in China tweeted the story, and within minutes it was the second most shared story on Twitter. University officials told the AP that they wanted to find out who made the discovery.

It’s a funny feeling, walking around this campus, hearing the chants of band members, who have the same enthusiasm for costumes as most college kids, though they have no football team.

The student government passed a resolution calling for Mr. Jenkins to wear the mask. Others began posting photos of their hats on social media and asked his right to do so.

The professor who posted the article sure looks mad, right?

But in the Twitterverse, you can’t keep the students down. They’re not down. They’re not letting his hat be out of sight.

Notre Dame’s conservative-leaning students — who tend to favor football over academics — are often at odds with the more liberal, multicultural campus portrayed in college movies.

But this uniform joke isn’t good for the school. After all, Notre Dame isn’t a sports powerhouse. Nor is it particularly conservative. In this era of populism, this one-liner doesn’t inspire confidence.

So I suspect a more serious debate will be underway in the coming days about what such small ritual represents. A comment below one Notre Dame story (which contained an oblique reference to the hat) says: “If the president’s honoring small groups of students in the band with a costume and not all students, do all the students get to wear the same costume?”

I expect this topic will be on a university discussion board — like, for example, the one at justintime.com, where students trade academic queries — in the coming days, whether university uniforms are an appropriate commitment.

Mr. Jenkins has decided not to wear the helmet, no matter what the initial uproar may have been.

I’m sure he’s been thinking about this for the last month.

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