The University of Notre Dame has a long history of
worshipping the sport of football, complete with jokes about their "Touchdown
Jesus." As the university
that still can claim the most famous football coach in college football history, Notre Dame (ND)
still takes the sport very seriously decades after the fact. They’re the only college football team
with its own television contract, to have its home games televised exclusively
by NBC. The only problem with all
of this is that the Fighting Irish haven’t really been that great a team in a
long time. And that’s why it was
such a wise decision for them to hire Cincinnati football coach Brian Kelly,
who turned his unremarkable team into a formidable power, and is believed, with
good reason, to be able to do even more with the recruiting abilities of Notre
This new hire is a big deal in college sports. No wonder the anti-choicers decided
they had to have a part of it; Touchdown Jesus forbids that anything important
happen that’s not "All About Them."
Hijacking health care reform isn’t enough, it turns out. Now the Fetus People have to take on
The hook is that Notre Dame is a Catholic university and
Kelly is pro-choice. Apparently,
this is suddenly a contradiction, though the sports world has mainly expressed confusion
over why this is an issue.
Hard to blame sports writers who ask the obvious question, which is,
“What does abortion have to do with football?”
To ask the question is to miss the point, as anyone who has
dealt with the Fetus People can attest.
They haven’t met many issues they can’t make about abortion. It’s an all-purpose stand-in for
everything that right wing reactionaries wish to attack—witness, for
instance, Chuck Norris implying that giving people more access to general
health care is the same thing as aborting
the Baby Jesus. If mammograms
and blood pressure medication are the same thing as abortion, then surely
hiring a pro-choice football coach is abortion.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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From an outsider’s perspective, the whole thing is
silly. But for the sex panickers,
all the necessary ingredients are there in full force: College kids who are
surely Doing It, Catholicism (and the right wing’s naked desire to own it
outright), masculinity displays, and the hated pointy-headed intellectualism of
universities. It doesn’t have to
make sense. The point is that
college football is a powder keg of buttons that right-wingers like to push,
and they’re going to use abortion to push them. This isn’t even the first time that this powder keg has
attracted anti-choice nuts. Saint
Louis basketball coach Rick Majerus suggested that he supports abortion rights
in public, and publicity-hungry
reactionary archbishop Raymond Burke used this as an opportunity to lash out. When abortion is everything, then that
means it’s the perfect tool for power-hungry reactionaries to use when trying to
change elections, stifle freedom of speech, or maximize sadistic
authoritarianism over every aspect of your flock’s life.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients of this sex panic that
poor Brian Kelly has set off by wanting to coach some football. First of all, anti-choicers love to
have this sort of thing happen on campus, in part because they want to catch
them while they’re young and pliable, but mostly because they can exploit
campus tensions over sexuality.
There’s always a handful of kids that resent the great campus sex
experiment who give anti-choicers an in on campus. The Campus Anti-Sex League that was tapped to protest Obama
is available and waiting for the next round of lashing out at their more
sexually adventurous peers.
The Catholicism angle isn’t hard to figure out. Catholics
have traditionally been Democrats, and conservatives see abortion as an issue
where they can get massive and permanent electoral switches. And when reticent and largely
pro-choice Catholics don’t get on board with the program, the attempts to
persuade them to consider abortion their number one issue turn to
force—hanging the loss of communion or, in Kelly’s case, the loss of jobs
over their heads if they don’t comply.
The masculinity issue is an interesting one. Since football is considered an
uber-masculine past time, it’s not hard to figure out why anti-choicers would
think it’s the perfect home for the misogyny underlying their movement. When real life turns out to be more
complicated—and when prominent figures demonstrate they can love football
without hating women—the potential for a right wing backlash is great.
And of course, you have anti-intellectualism, which is
nearly as important to the anti-choice movement as misogyny. Catholic universities such as Notre
Dame have a long tradition of respecting and encouraging genuine intellectual
involvement in the world, which requires open-mindedness and often leads to
tolerance. You know, like any
other university. And the right
has a long-standing grudge match with the intellectual environment at
universities. How better to attack
this hated enemy than to use religion to bully a major university to give up on
its intellectual aspirations and instead enforce an ugly, anti-intellectual,
dogmatic view on its people? True,
starting with a football coach seems an odd choice, but it’s the sort of story
that will get national attention and put other people interested in academic
freedom on notice.
Since the odds that anti-choice complaints are going to
amount to nothing are sky high, there’s a strong possibility that the nuts will
show up and start picketing Kelly’s offices. While this is going to be irritating, I hope Kelly can take
some comfort in this: If the Fetus People really do picket his offices and
games, that will just reinforce the public’s understanding that they’re the new
McCarthyites, and abortion—like communism before—is just a tool being used
to express the sadistic authoritarian impulse.