Yesterday’s football practice delivered a crushing blow to the entire Notre Dame family. Declan Sullivan, a 20 year old junior at the University, fell to his death after a gust of wind toppled the scissor lift he was filming practice from.
There are undoubtedly many questions to be asked: Why was he up there when the lift states it shouldn’t be used in winds above 25 MPH? Why was the team practicing outside when in similar conditions they were indoors? Why did practice still continue after the lift fell? Why didn’t Kelly or someone else in charge of the film crew tell him to get down?
The ongoing investigation will reveal the official answers to these questions, it all boils down something that ends up being very hard to explain. Basically, I’m sure no one thought twice about it, even Declan whom, by his own Twitter and Facebook posts, was admittedly terrified. Again though, I’m sure no one thought any of those lifts would come crashing down.
Now I’m not looking to absolve anyone from blame because there is no doubt this was avoidable, but there is a culture that few people really understand. I myself was struck quite hard by this news. Being a former student manager myself and working alongside other fellow students who were either managers, sports medicine, or the A/V team that filmed the practices, I never thought something like this could happen. I was a part of this culture myself and I’m sure I have attended practices myself in which the winds gusted over the suggested 25 MPH limit.
As one poster at NDN brilliantly put it, we never thought much about such things (quoting the post since they are flushing the boards more often than a public toilet right now):
I was a student manager for three years at ND so yesterday’s accident hit me pretty hard. All students that assist the team (managers, trainers, film crew, etc.) take their job seriously and want to be the best. We always considered our manager organization the best in the country.
People ask why was he in the lift. Who told him to go up? The reality probably is that no one told him to go up, that was his assigned job for the day and that is what he did. He knew what was expected and he did it. Yes, he was scared but he knew what had to be done.
It hard to explain, but the mangers are not micro-managed by anyone except themselves. We knew what our jobs were and how to do them. The coaches had a job to do and we assisted them without bogging them down in the details. It’s not like someone had to tell the student to go up; he knew his job was to film.
No one probably gave any thought to the lift being up there. It was there up in the air every day for filming. Nothing unusual. It’s not like Kelly or Swarbrick ordered him up there. I am sure he loved what he was doing and wanted to do the best job possible.
I know when I was at practice I wanted nothing more than to make the practice run perfectly. That was my position: get the job done with no one noticing. I am sure that this kid felt the same way.
I know there are thousand more questions to come. I know an adult should have been overseeing the weather. I know someone should have brought him down.
But you see these kids are so committed to their work. That is what makes them special; that is what made him special! It is tough to explain but my heart is broken. He was doing what he loved and paid the ultimate price.
Maybe this is just me being emotional, but for the moment forget the blame game. The student assistants are special kids; may God always keep them in his love.
That post and this whole incident reminded me of an experience I had as a manager during the Weis-era.
Usually during cold weather, practices were held indoors; however, on one particular day, Weis wanted to take advantage of an absolutely blistering cold day outside to toughen the team up. There was no snow outside, so I’m sure he felt the chance for injury was minimal. A bit of cold wouldn’t kill his players and besides, it would give them an advantage during a cold home game. They would be moving to stay warm and when they weren’t, they would have heavy winter parkas available to them.
Everyone else also had these jackets available for use during the practice…well everyone except for the student managers since it was not a part of our issued gear. So for weather in the teens (and some pretty stiff winds too), we had on our issued sweats and wind-suits covering to try to keep us warm.
It failed quite miserably.
Sure we bitched and complained, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. We had a job to do, so we did it. The sophomores working under us were even worse off as they were not issued any kind of real cold weather gear. It was awful, but we were going to fight through it.
A few periods into practice, Weis had enough.
He stopped practice, turned to the head equipment manager for Notre Dame (staff member) and chewed him out for allowing all the managers to freeze. Weis got an explanation that we didn’t have any issued jackets, but that wasn’t good enough. Weis demanded that additional jackets be brought out for us and that the sophomores be sent home as a precaution. A few minutes later, the sophomores were warm in their dorms and I had a nice fluffy parka on for the rest of practice to comfortably continue my job.
Yes, it wasn’t a life or death situation, but, to put it mildly, some of the things that went on during football practice and the managers program could boil down to pure “this is how we do it” stupidity. Believe me, our group questioned several things that we did, many of them with the same “this is how we do it” answers. However, we just shrugged our shoulders and went on with things.
Like “Goldboiler” said, we all had pride in our jobs and wanted to help the team and coaches. I’m sure Declan felt the same. The team needed film of practice. The overhead high-angle film is needed to get a good view of things on the field (hell, they even did that for our student manager game too each season) and someone had to control the camera to get it. I’m sure the last thing on anyone’s mind was that one of those lifts would topple (there are three out there each practice [EDIT: after reading more news, looks like my memory is hazy, there are only two scissor lifts, but also two permanent towers]).
Yes, this was an avoidable tragedy. Yes, I desperately wish someone would have played the role of Weis to stop things down to slap someone in the face of with the question of “why the hell are we doing this?!”
Mangers, sports medicine, and film crew alike are there to ensure that the coaches only have to worry about their players and their practices. Unfortunately, this can allow for them to get tunnel-visioned. I guarantee Kelly wishes like hell he was thinking more about the students in the lifts rather than his team preparing for a possible windy day against Tulsa. I would wager the person in charge of the filming crew didn’t even think the lifts could be toppled by a gust of wind.
It’s the way we do things. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Like I said, I don’t wish to pass the buck or use this all as an excuse; however, I know there are people who want someone to take the blame. In the end, someone will be held responsible. I’m sure of it. My main goal in writing this is to shed some light on the “how can this happen” question.
It’s beyond tragic that a 20 year old kid will have to laid to rest because of this. My prayers go out to Declan’s family and friends as well the entire Notre Dame family.
As a former manager who has worked alongside students like Declan, I hope for nothing more than for the words “this is how we do things” to forever be erased from the vocabulary of anyone involved with these organizations. It has taken one life and that is far, far too many.