Why did Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame staff allow their video team to be placed in such a dangerous position on Wednesday?
Why did Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame staff allow their video team to be placed in such a dangerous position on Wednesday?

On Wednesday Declan Sullivan, a student video assistant for the Notre Dame football team, was killed when the scissor lift from which he was filming a Notre Dame practice was toppled by high winds. This is unquestionably a tragedy, and the thoughts and prayers of the entire Spartan Nation go out to this young man’s family. However, it is important to understand that this young man should have never been put in this decision by the Notre Dame coaching staff.

Prior to the fall, the young man expressed his fear regarding his situation. Just prior to the start of practice Sullivan posted via his Twitter account:  "Gusts of wind up to 60 mph well today will be fun at work ... I guess I've lived long enough." Later in practice, and just shortly before the tower’s collapse he tweeted: "Holy (expletive) holy (expletive) this is terrifying."   It is clear that this young man was frightened by the danger he was being put in. This begs the question, why were those in charge, including head coach Brian Kelly, not aware of this danger as well? Or perhaps more importantly, did these individuals even consider the Declan Sullivan’s well-being?

The negligence exhibited by the Fighting Irish in this situation is put into perspective by the actions of Ohio State head coach, Jim Tressel. When asked by reporters on Tuesday about the high winds, Tressel said: "It looks a little nasty. I worry about our cameramen, their well-being up there 50 feet in the air.” Tressel chose to practice indoors that day, in large part due to his concern for the safety of his staff. These comments show exactly what should have been going through the minds of the Notre Dame coaching staff when making their decision about practicing outdoors. Jim Tressel understood the risks that day, why didn’t Brian Kelly?

Apparently the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration is wondering the same thing. On Thursday IOSHA confirmed that it is opening an investigation into the incident, but has no timetable for when the investigation will be concluded. It isn’t surprising that such an investigation has been opened in South Bend. According to the South Bend Tribune, although it was not clear who built the lift, HHS Wire, a manufacturer of scissor lifts, stated that the device was only safe in winds up to 25 miles per hour. If the Notre Dame lift was only safe in winds of that speed then there is absolutely no excuse for the Irish putting Decland Sullivan in such a perilous situation.

The Notre Dame football team, and the entire campus are reeling from the news of this young man’s death. This is an unmitigated tragedy, but that does not change the fact that it was preventable. The Notre Dame football staff knew, or at least should have known, that the wind on Wednesday would be gusting to speeds greater than 50 miles per hour. They should have known that precariously propping another human being 50 feet in the air on a scissor lift was extremely risky. Is practicing outside really worth risking a young man’s life? It is unacceptable that Brian Kelly either decided practicing outside was worth that risk, or that he never even considered the risk. He should have followed Jim Tressel’s example. Tressel showed that despite the pressure, spotlight, and money that surround college football, it is in fact just a game. Football isn’t life, no matter what some may believe, and that game should never trump the safety of the team and its staff.

I can’t pretend to understand Brian Kelly’s motives in deciding to hold practice outdoors on Wednesday despite the obvious danger presented to his video staff, only Kelly can know that answer. But whatever Kelly’s motives, the outcome is the same: A young man has lost his life, all so a team could have one extra practice outside.


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