The Curious Case of the Cursing Catholic Coach

How should Catholics respond when other Catholics publicly misrepresent the Church? That’s really the fundamental question. It has been before American Catholics ever since September 12, 1960 when John F. Kennedy, in a televised speech in Houston, essentially disavowed the influence of the Catholic faith on his political choices. With regard to politicians, U.S. bishops have increasingly taken them to task for publicly touting their Catholicity while simultaneously undermining the Church by advancing legislation contrary to Catholic moral and social teaching. Where matters of public policy are directly affected, it follows logically that if you represent yourself as Catholic, you have a duty to do so with the utmost fidelity to the Church.

Notre Dame Head Football Coach Brian Kelly

Notre Dame Head Football Coach Brian Kelly (AP Images)

But, what about when the Catholic’s influence is less direct? Enter the case of Brian Kelly, the Catholic head football coach of the University of Notre Dame. This past weekend, during a particularly ugly nationally-televised loss, cameras caught a purple-faced Coach Kelly in an obscenity-laced tirade directed at his players. While Greg Pollowitz of the National Review Online called for Kelly’s ouster, Matthew Archbold of the National Catholic Register simply suggested that we should expect better of Coach Kelly, a high-profile Catholic coach at a high-profile Catholic university. As one might imagine, Mr. Archbold’s comment box wasn’t left wanting. While some commenters agreed with him, most of the responses were downright shameful. What follows is a sorry litany of recurring themes from the comments.

“It’s just football.”
Okay, Coach Kelly isn’t legislating public policy and is entitled to make mistakes, but, like it or not, he represents the Church in a public way. To be Church literally means to be set apart. The problem is that he looked just like any other angry, frustrated football coach…if not worse. The scene was even uncomfortable for the announcers. When they’re taken aback, the line has been crossed. If that’s who we are, would you want to sign up for RCIA?

“He’s under a lot of pressure.”
Sorry, but so is the father of a family of 6 who lost his job a year ago and still can’t find more than part-time work. Many of us carry crosses much heavier than simply winning and losing football games. Sometimes it gets to us, and we mess up. What do we do? Hopefully, we apologize to those we’ve hurt and we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, if necessary. We don’t get a free pass because of the pressure; neither does Coach Kelly.

“Notre Dame isn’t really Catholic, anyway.”
Recent controversies notwithstanding, yes it is…at least technically. Indeed Notre Dame, like many other Catholic-in-name colleges, does not represent some teachings of the Church particularly well. However, if we are truly our brother’s keeper, our mission is to continually call the lost sheep back to the fold rather giving up on them. As such, Coach Kelly doesn’t get off just because of some recent controversies at Notre Dame University.

“Rockne, Leahy, and Holtz probably did it, too.”
Whether or not that’s true of any of these iconic coaches, it wouldn’t make the behavior any more acceptable. Should we sanction physical assault of opposing players because of Woody Hayes?! Also, if we never expected better of ourselves than our predecessors, how would we ever progress? God, after all, does expect us to progress. The Bible is an exercise in progressive revelation.

“Worry about your own house,” and “Don’t watch it if you don’t like it.”
These two essentially sum up to “just ignore it.” Sorry, but Mr. Archbold is “worrying about his own house” by using his given platform to raise the issue. Not doing so would be ignoring his duty to be a positive example to his family. Further, we don’t have the option to “just ignore it.” How quickly we may have forgotten last Sunday’s first reading. In Ezekiel, the Lord reminds us that if we “do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,” we share responsibility for his sins. This is the essence of the communal nature of sin.

“Are you kidding with this; what about the priests who abused all those children?”
This is precisely the point. “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones” (Luke 16:10).

For my part, I would like to see some mutual acknowledgement by both Coach Kelly and Notre Dame that this behavior is not acceptable and they both expect better of him going forward. The comment box is open. What do you think?


      • Sarah says

        Thanks! Yeah I am so frustrated with the University as a whole … and with the football team. It’s definitely bad to show this on national television, but I can’t say I’m surprised at the behavior. That’s how desensitized I’ve become thanks to our culture. I pray often for the University of Notre Dame, its leaders and the student body as it does embody so much that is Catholic, but it is so heartbreaking to see the disconnect in some of its choices. There is so so so much that is good and holy on campus, but unfortunately, it’s been overshadowed by a some bad decision-making in recent years – people who didn’t attend school there don’t see all the Catholic acts that occur daily on campus. I used to attend daily Mass and stop by the Grotto everyday as a student … just as many students do. But no one talks about how campus ministry retreats fill up in no time, that everyone goes to Mass, and that there is a great (and deep) respect for the Catholic faith on campus. Maybe one day it will be noticed by outsiders.

  1. Donal Mahoney says

    The Cursing Coach at Notre Dame is truly small potatoes. Not too worry.

    The president of Notre Dame, on the other hand, brought a pro-choice President of the United States to campus and bestowed an award on him for reasons that escape many alumni and former fans of Notre Dame. Now that’s a sacrilege. Notre Dame hasn’t defeated Navy since, never mind South Florida.

    Yet the Notre Dame president is still in office. At least Father Corapi’s failings are sins of the flesh. Inviting Obama to campus was a failing of the intellect, much more serious in the minds of some.

  2. says

    This is in response to your friend Sarah’s last comment.

    The “Catholic-ness” is noticed by outsiders! Last year, one of my fellow classmates in RCIA travelled to Notre Dame one weekend. He visited the Grotto and for the possibly the first time felt the overwhelming energy and presence of the Holy Spirit. :)
    Of course, he was open to an experience.
    Maybe one day the outsiders will be open, too…

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