Notre Dame released the results of its “unbiased” investigation into Declan Sullivan’s death. Unbiased because it says so. The inquiry absolves anyone from individual responsibility, thus no individual will be punished. Notre Dame has switched to remote control cameras. Nothing to see here. Move along.
The investigation blames “an unusual weather system,” a “highly irregular wind gust and the failure of the staff to “access real-time weather information” while on the practice field.
This weather system was “unusual,” though not unpredictable. It was abnormally windy for days throughout the Midwest. It was a national news story. Notre Dame had practiced indoors the day before because of the winds. Those in charge checked the weather multiple times, monitoring the winds. Declan Sullivan consulted weather.gov before leaving for practice, because of the winds. This contrasts Brian Kelly’s “beautiful day” claim.
Whether such wind gusts could be expected on a given day is irrelevant. That day it was predictable there would be heavy wind gusts. It was reasonable to suspect that would create a safety hazard. Facing the same winds, Ohio State and Michigan took precautions. Indiana OSHA, conducting a truly unbiased investigation, concluded Notre Dame “made a decision to utilize scissor lifts in known adverse weather conditions.” It fined Notre Dame $77,500.
The staff did not “access real-time weather information” while on the field. They had no need to. They were outside. Humans can feel wind and roughly estimate how fast it is blowing. An assessment as blunt as “wow, it’s windy” would logically suggest sending a student up in a 40-foot tower was unsafe.
Notre Dame’s “independent” investigation finds Declan Sullivan’s “Holy fuck holy fuck this is terrifying” tweet inconclusive because he “never radioed or otherwise communicated with anyone that he was uncomfortable on the lift.” The question is not whether he thought he should come down, but did he feel like he could?
His job was to be in that lift and film practice. Presumably, he wanted to do that job well. Deciding unilaterally to come down would have been shirking responsibility. He would have had to explain to Notre Dame coaches why they didn’t have practice tapes. Having to flout king football would have affected his decision to stay in the tower, if he even made one. Perhaps, he implicitly trusted those in charge wouldn’t place him in a truly unsafe situation.
No individual caused the incident. That doesn’t mean no one is at fault. This was a collective failure. It was not a “freak accident.” It was reasonable based on the circumstances and preventable.
Confronting this is uncomfortable. It should be. This is a cultural problem, inherent in college football. No one at Notre Dame considered Declan Sullivan’s predicament adequately, because football is foremost. Individuals don’t stop the line. The beast gets fed before trifling concerns such as safety and general human decency are considered. Responsibility for that collective ignorance starts at the top with coaches and university administrators.
Notre Dame’s reaction to the incident has been corporate. A student died participating in a student activity. The rhetoric claims him as a member of the Notre Dame family. The reaction, down to fighting the OSHA assessment, has been a multimillion dollar industry doing damage control. Brian Kelly claims the Notre Dame’s sentiment “has been articulated.” It has, and it’s been neither compassionate nor genuine.
[Photo via Getty]