He died because adults, responsible, extraordinarily well-paid adults at one of America's most prestigious universities had first convinced him that his job videoing football practice was so important that he would take extraordinary risks to do it, and then then because those same adults refused to take the normal precautions for employee safety we'd expect of any workplace.
how about taking responsibility?
But he also died because of skewed priorities in American education, skewed priorities and sorry messages which claim too many lives. That this occurred in the same 24 news cycle which included the incredible homophobic Facebook posts of an Arkansas school board member makes the need for change more obvious than ever.
"The harmful by-product of big-time sports is the myopia required of those intimately involved. To compete at the elite level requires an entire network of people -- athletes, coaches, trainers, support personnel -- to all subscribe to the same skewed belief system: that what they do in the field of competition actually has some larger, intrinsic value beyond winning a game, meeting a profit margin or padding a university's coffers."When I read Mike Wise's column I posted this comment: "In high schools across the United States, and yes, in Middle Schools and even some elementaries, football is raised up as the ultimate expression of both the school and the community. At universities across the nation the football coach is typically the highest paid person on campus, often the highest paid public employee in the state. Football is the most promoted feature of so many universities. Are we really surprised that a 20-year-old assumes that he is serving a "higher mission" by risking his life for the most important thing at the most famous university in America. Notre Dame is an extreme example of this of course, but it is hardly alone. And I feel awful for Brian Kelly, who went from being a great coach at a university (Grand Valley State) where varsity athletics had a logical (Division 2) place in the scheme of things. Now, sucked into pursuing "the dream" and the accompanying riches, he is here, wondering why he was not responsible enough to move practice inside, or at least tell one of his student employees not to behave recklessly. The cure for this "disease" lies in rethinking our educational priorities up and down the line. In rethinking which kids get most celebrated in our communities. And in rethinking how we hold adults at educational institutions accountable for their decisions.
"When you work and live around others who only know how to live and work that way, the grand scheme gets shoved aside.
"And the only times these people are driven from their cocoons is when reality in the form of tragedy punctures the walls. Declan Sullivan died Wednesday afternoon when the automatic lift that had him high off the ground collapsed amid the 51-mph wind gusts in South Bend, Ind. He was up there in those conditions because his job was to film Notre Dame football practice." - Mike Wise in The Washington Post
|Real men hate...|
Walk into any high school, or onto most US university campuses, and you will see an adult created hierarchy. Often it begins with football players at the top, and gay students, minority students, disabled students, at the bottom.
Peer pressure doesn't create that ranking, "grown ups" do. They're the ones who build giant football stadiums while skimping on essential educational tools. They're the ones who fill those stadiums with people who rarely find the time to cheer differing types of student accomplishment and courage. They're the ones who walk around deifying certain athletes and celebrating even those close to those athletes, thus announcing to all who is valued.
So there is the wilful ignorance of basic safety...
"According to government safety regulations, “work on or from scaffolds is prohibited during storms or high winds unless a competent person has determined that it is safe for employees to be on the scaffold and those employees are protected by a personal fall arrest system or wind screens. Wind screens shall not be used unless the scaffold is secured against the anticipated wind forces imposed.”' - South Bend TribuneAnd then there are "traditions" which, when embraced, savage kids on all sides of the lines we adults draw. The Declan Sullivans who are figuratively (or in this case literally) crushed by joining in, and the students who figuratively and literally die because they fail to match the single descriptors of success we create.
What do we do? Well, maybe we can start by acting like adults. Responsible, accountable adults, and consider the side effects of our actions. If you look around your school, decide what you can do to spread the acclaim around. Maybe skip every other football game, devoting that time to watching a "minor" sport, or a play, or a concert. Maybe you need to hold pep rallies celebrating student art. Maybe you need to offer your support to the school's Gay/Straight Alliance instead of attending a basketball game or two. Maybe "Homecoming" should revolve around some things other than a football game and a popularity contest. Maybe you think about athletics as an important part of education for a large group of students, and thus invest more in participation and a bit less in creating a spectator sport (adding sports rather than rebuilding major sport facilities might be an example of this).
I don't know the answers, but I think I know the questions we should be asking. And those questions revolve around the messages we are sending to our children.
- Ira Socol