Today, Brian Kelly held a press conference to kick off fall camp. So, naturally, we are going to talk about the Leprechauns. No, not the dancing ones you typically see here, but the three that will grace various Notre Dame events this season.
Yesterday, we received something in our inbox prompted by a post from our friends at One Foot Down who had a call to ditch the Leprechaun for good ‘ol Clashmore Mike. This citizen of the internet, whom wished to remain anonymous, fancied not the cuddles of puppies and good boy memes (for the record, Clashmore Mike will own a 12/10 rating), but wished to deliver their insight into the psyche of the athletic department about said historic Leprechaun selections that may have just shielded Notre Dame from NCAA wrist-slapping.
Yes, you read that right. We have a tip form an anonymous source shedding light on mascot selection procedures and the NCAA implications it may have carried. That is the best sentence I have ever written on HLS and may or may not be the main reason we are going to take a trip down a path certainly less traveled. I can think of no better encapsulation of our little corner of the internet.
If you’re still with us after that last paragraph, thanks for being our brand of weird. Now, let your brain gnaw on the fact that the NCAA has more regulations and punishments for mascots, and the symbolism they embody, than they do about universities creating diplomas and majors out of thin air.
If you’re somehow still with us, let’s travel to Champaign, Illinois, where, earlier this week, thirty-eight (!) current and former faculty members wrote to the NCAA demanding Mark Emmett punish the school due to their continued use of “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” as well as citing a lack of institutional control for failing to police the since retired images of their old Chief mascot. Seriously.
The letter specifically recalls 2005, when the NCAA laid down the law in regards to using mascots that Native Americans would find offensive. In fact, the Illini themselves were banned from hosting NCAA post-season play until they ditched the Chief mascot, imagery, and related chants. The letter further cites NCAA rules regarding not just cultural diversity, but also gender equality as well.
Now let’s double-back to our anonymous Leprechaun tipster, whom I’ve buried worse in this lede than the WWE did Zack Ryder.
The claim is that Notre Dame had concern internally that the NCAA would call shenanigans on the Leprechaun, claiming it as gender-exclusive, racially exclusive, and promoting a stereotype offense to the Irish. So, small, stealthy seeds of change were sewn and the first test, having a beardless Leprechaun last year, helped remove a very visible barrier to gender exclusivity. With a distinct lack of alumni burning diplomas, you then have three incredibly talented Leprechaun’s trotted out to larger ND media-machine fanfare than usual to effectively shoot down any perceptions of exclusivity and keep the NCAA at bay.
Now, I share this not because I wish to claim Samuel Jackson, Lynnette Wukie, and Conal Fagan are pawns selected solely because they checked boxes for minority, female, and native Irishman so we can keep our beloved mascot and the name “Fighting Irish”. Far from it.
Instead, our tipster demonstrated the athletic department manages to plug themselves far more into battling the perception battle that we give them credit for. Perception can absolutely form reality, especially these days when people search for posts from certain outlets or blogs (*nervously tugs at collar*) to confirm their own bias.
For example, if you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, you’ve probably had at least one idiot mention that “Fighting Irish” is offensive. Forget the fact that Notre Dame reclaimed the phrase and wore it like a badge of honor, especially after a tussle with the Klu Klux Klan. It’s bad and offensive because reasons!
Sure, Mike Brown was the first Leprechaun of color in Notre Dame history, but using similar (terrible) logic as demonstrated above, Mike becomes the exception and not the rule. Under foggy-logic-glasses, the Leprechaun moves from being a representation of the spirit of the student body, but a caricature of an offensive stereotype.
Even I am guilty of falling into this perception-is-reality trap myself. Travel back in time and ask me what I thought Leprechaun requirements were and I would absolutely have said “dude with a beard”. Now, had I talked to cheer coach Delayna Herndon, she would’ve set me straight saying such conclusions were nothing more than myth.
Sometimes seeing is believing and more importantly, seeing opens up doors and encourages people to run through team. Samuel directly credited both seeing and meeting Mike Brown as inspiration. While women have tried out for serving as Leprechaun in the past, Lynnette will serve as a visible reminder that the tryouts aren’t just some lip-service courtesy, but a possibility.
And Conal becoming the first native Irishman to don the green suit is just ridiculously cool no matter how you slice it.
Basically, Notre Dame hit the trifecta with this talented bunch. Going all-in in promoting it, which typically isn’t seen for a leprechaun selection, might just be the easiest PR decision of all time. It’s not just a stark contrast to whatever is going on over at the University of Illinois, but, more importantly, the Leprechaun will reflect the student body in a manager that it never has before.
And sure, at the end of the day, it’s just a student in a costume trying to pump up the crowd and play to the camera. But for someone that once thought his application to Notre Dame was a waste of time and money–because what business does a half-Mexican Protestant from Texas have doing at a prestigious Catholic University in the Midwest–I am thrilled to see this rarely seen reflection of the place I called home for four years.
It’s certainly a lot more inspiring than a dog trotting along the sideline (still love you, Clashmore Mike).
Oh, and welcome back actual football practices, we missed you.