The Alma Mater: What Would ‘Rock’ Do?

Amidst the flap over whether Notre Dame football players should join their fellow ND students in the singing of “Notre Dame, Our Mother” after the conclusion of games—win or lose—was this statement from Brian Kelly:

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate to put your players after defeat in a situation where they are exposed.”

Alma MaterExposed? Exposed to what, exactly? Exposed to a wonderful tradition in which Notre Dame students—football player or not—pledge their honor to the greater good for which they strive as members of this University family?

Senior Lily Banker said it best in a heartfelt letter to the Observer: “Singing the Alma Mater…is a cleansing moment, a time to reflect not only on the game that was just played but on ourselves as well. The Alma Mater is not about victory. It’s not even about football. The Alma Mater is about solidarity. It is about loyalty to Notre Dame in all its meanings. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose.”

In speaking the past couple of weeks since releasing Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne, I have been asked several times, “What do you think Coach Rockne would do or say about….how football is played today?…violence and concussions?….and, yes…honoring traditions such as the Alma Mater?”

Here was a man who did not like to lose football games, did not want his players to become used to losing. “I don’t want a football player who doesn’t take defeat to heart, who laughs it off with the thought that, well, there’s another one next Saturday.”

At the same time, Rockne realized that football was a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end was developing teenagers into strong, capable young men who could think on their feet, act on their own, and choose to do the right thing. Rockne “exposed” his players to the public for hours on end during long train trips to far-flung locations where games were played. They were expected to act like gentlemen, and from all accounts, they did on nearly every occasion.

I think Rockne would also recognize the “cleansing” nature of joining with fellow students to honor the school’s foundations. He’d realize it’s a moment to come together and say, win or lose, we’re in this together, and we go together. Viewed one way, the singing is the first step in preparing for the next opportunity to represent Notre Dame.

The special charm of Notre Dame football has always been that the school is represented by true students, who live, learn, study, eat, and pray among their fellow students. Any effort to diminish that special bond—and this isn’t the only one—tarnishes what has made Notre Dame football unique.

I think the only thing that’s been exposed is some questionable coach-think.