Tom O'Toole
"I can't breathe" revisited: my hoop hope for the Lady (and Mike Brey) Irish
By Tom O'Toole
March 18, 2015

[From the archives, pro-life Renew readers should find this "basketball post," written in February, timely as ever.]

As the cold Indiana calendar turns from January to February, Notre Dame is once again represented by the perennial strong showing from Coach Muffet McGraw's Lady Irish basketball team, ranked fourth in the country with a record of 20-2. Led by Player of the Year candidate, Jewell Loyd, the young (no senior starters) squad is once again making noise for McGraw's elusive second National Championship. But is was some noise they made earlier this season, when they donned "I can't breathe" t-shirts during a pre-game warm-up on December 13, and joined the likes of NBA stars Derrick Rose and Lebron James in protesting police "brutality" against black men, that this article is mostly about. At the time I thought the ladies' politically correct protest (especially at a Catholic University) was not quite the right one, but I have come to see that, a change not in slogan but subject (especially joined with a dual protest by the Irish men's team) would not only be the perfect statement for players of Our Lady's University to make, but a powerful message to the secular world as well.

The problem of supporting the Eric Garner cause (or the Michael Brown case or police brutality toward black men in general) is that by not also taking the police side of the story into (full) consideration, a potentially constructive movement becomes tainted and untruthful. Not unlike when many Catholic institutions (including Notre Dame) accept the Catholic invocation to be kind to gays, but ruin it by also supporting the active gay lifestyle, this movement mostly honors the black victim while vilifying the police. That Garner didn't deserve to die is without question, and while the "overkill" (no pun intended) methods of subduing the big, resisting-arrest black man are debatable, a hustler who willfully blocked the entrance to a legitimate business and illegally sold cigarettes to minors, even kids, can hardly be called a hero. Contrast this with the cause that Catholics once almost single-handedly championed, that of the completely helpless but innocent martyrs of the sexual revolution, and you can see where I'm going with this protest.

I kept thinking during that game (and again on the Feast of the Holy Innocents and again during the March for Life) that if the Lady Irish had protested abortion instead of this issue, how powerful it might have been...but later during prayer, Mary seemed to say, "Well, why not protest both?"

During the first round of the NCAA Tournament, McGraw's charges could again come out with "I can't breathe" t-shirts, but this time have a picture of an unborn baby being choked and strangled to death during a late term abortion. And if that statement made by young female role models wasn't enough to spur a renewed nationwide debate over the abortion scandal, a few days later Notre Dame's Coach Mike Brey's male counterparts, enjoying their best season in decades and all but a shoe-in to make the world famous Lenten basketball tournament this year too, could support (and echo) the Lady Irish's fight by donning similar shirts a few days later, bringing new meaning to the term "March Madness." A tall hope perhaps, but with Brey's directive this year to have his team adopt the football team's tradition of having his players sing "Notre Dame, Our Mother" after home games coinciding with the team's revival, one has to wonder. And, with legendary basketball announcer Dick Vitale telling Irish men's star guard Jerian Grant on national television (in ESPN's post-game interview after Notre Dame's improbable comeback win against Duke) that "he must be spending a lot of time at the Grotto" (and Grant smiling in reply) you have to believe that, as bad as the "Culture of Death" has been, that at Notre Dame anything is still possible.

© Tom O'Toole


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Tom O'Toole

Thomas Augustine O'Toole was born in Chicago and grew up in a devout Catholic family with five brothers and two sisters. He was the sports editor of Notre Dame's Scholastic magazine, where his story "Reflections on the Game" won the award for Best Sports Feature for the Indiana Collegiate Press Association... (more)


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