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Brian Kelly Should Not Take All The Blame For Declan Sullivan Accident...

Rock Mamola

Producer/Host on WSCR 670AM The Score.

By now we all know about the extremely devastating passing of 20 year old Notre Dame student Declan Sullivan.  It has been over a week now since this tragedy and still the investigation continues to find out exact details of what happened on that day and who did/said what and so on.  So far no one has been disciplined, no one has been fired, no one has been awarded any settlement (that we know of) and yet it seems like this truly unique incident has faded away in the scope of sports in this country.
Chicago is not a college football town by any means, but this story has made its way around the country and it seems everyone wants to put blame on someone for this tragic incident.  I will say that I cannot remember another incident  like this in any sport where a someone is killed filming a practice in a scissor lift during a truly unique weather pattern.  Meteorologists stated that this storm was the biggest storm to blast over the Chicagoland area with winds exceeding 60+ MPH and record low barometric pressures, definitely an uncommon weather pattern for the midwest and surely a red flag for anyone who works outside.
For the past two weeks I have noticed people feel the need to put blame on someone for Sullivan's untimely passing, but without all the facts how can you blame anyone?  I truly believe we will never know the real story about what happened on that day, but if you feel the need to put blame on someone for this you have to include Sullivan himself.

Now before you call me all sorts of names and refuse to read my blog again, hear me out on this.
This weather pattern was indeed a truly unique and uncommon one for anyone who has to work outside.  Myself working in downtown Chicago for instance was almost blown over a couple of times walking to work in a light rain.  The timing of how the University of Notre Dame handled this three day weather event in the midwest is as follows.   
Tuesday the Irish decided to move the practice indoors to the Loftus Center on the university grounds because of the high winds which reached up to 52 MPH at some points.  This was a decision made by Head Coach Brian Kelly according to The South Bend Tribune.  Wednesday the Irish decided to hold their practices outside on the normal practice fields on campus even though the high winds and low barometric pressures were still present.  In fact the South Bend Tribune quotes WSBT Metrologist Rick Mecklenburg saying the highest winds of the day occurred just before 5 p.m. The peak wind gust at that time was 53 mph. The highest sustained wind was just under 40 mph.   
The decision to practice outside was indeed Head Coach Brian Kelly's as he stated the Saturday following Sullivan's death and a loss to Tulsa:
"You have to be able to look at the weather conditions and find out whether you believe it's going to be a productive day, first. We believed it to be productive, it was productive, obviously up until the tragedy."
The South Bend Tribune also quotes HHS Hire, a tool hire and equipment hire company based in the UK, stating that lifts like the one Notre Dame uses should never be used with wind speeds greater than 25 MPH.  This is something that Head Coach Brian Kelly of course was unaware about.    
"If I had the knowledge specifically of wind speed and heights of lifts, all of those, I certainly would provide those to you. I just don't have that information."
So using the previous information, one would think that since Brian Kelly is responsible for everything Notre Dame football, from players to personnel, he should be the one to see the axe come down on his job at Notre Dame. 

National columnist Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports called for Kelly's job stating:  
"Kelly's negligence is inexcusable. He ignored the risks. Notre Dame should treat Kelly like a drunk driver whose negligent behavior killed a passenger or another driver. An apology and a financial settlement are not enough."
Should Brian Kelly take full responsibility for what happened?  Being the head coach you would think that this is an open and shut case, but I believe it is not for one simple reason.   
Before the tragedy Declan Sullivan did what many of us did with this record setting weather pattern hitting the midwest, hit the social networks.  Sullivan tweeted at 3:22pm just before practice began the following.
"Gusts of wind up to 60 mph well today will be fun at work ... I guess I've lived long enough."
Knowing what we know now this 93 character tweet seems horrific that Sullivan (although sarcastic at the time he tweeted) "predicted" his future.  Practice begins with Sullivan manning his normal position in the tower which stands 50 feet above the practice fields.  At 4:06pm Sullivan finds time to share his thoughts on the experience he is having dealing with the elements in the position where he is manned tweeting the following:
"Holy F**k holy f**k this is terrifying"
44 Minutes later...the tower which carried Sullivan tipped over due to a large wind gust breaking through the fence surrounding the practice facility and fell into the street outside.  Sullivan was rushed to Memorial Hospital where he later died.
Tragic, horrific, shocking.  But what happened should not fall on the shoulders of Brian Kelly alone.
It may have been the call of Brian Kelly's decision to practice outside, but it was Sullivan who got in the lift.  I understand we do not have all the facts about what happened in that 90 minute span between practice starting and the death of Declan Sullivan, but I do not understand the reasoning why people are not looking at the collective rather than at each individual.  Declan Sullivan was not a child, he was a 20 year old student.  Well educated and from what Kelly said the following Saturday a huge fan of the University of Notre Dame and loved doing his job.   
I think when we say Kelly should have used common sense, why are we not saying the same about Sullivan.  Do we really believe that if Sullivan were to talk to his boss about the weather conditions and refuse to risk his life for video taping a football practice that he would lose his job with the team itself?  Do we really believe that the University would have fired a 20 year old student over using common sense on his own rather than the coaches?   
I agree that Kelly not properly using common sense in the decision to practice like normal even though weather conditions were not normal is a failure on his part.  However does not Sullivan need to use the same common sense when he is one of a few that are up in those towers taping practice?  If Sullivan was indeed in fear of his life that he found a quick minute to tweet about it, the controls for the scissor lift were right in front of him.  Common sense would tell us if we were in a situation where we felt our safety/well being/life was threatened in any sort of way....we get out of the situation.
Why is Declan Sullivan different?  It was 44 minutes after he pronounced to cyberspace his fear for his life yet he did nothing to get himself out of the situation.  How is that Brian Kelly's fault when Sullivan did not use common sense either in his decision to stay in the lift?
Will this sound insensitive to some, yes.  However think of yourself in that situation.  You are a 20 year old student (not a kid) who is in fear of your life simply doing your job.  How would you react?  Would you truly believe that if you refused to do your job because you felt it was unsafe, you would lose it?  If any employer fired an employee over that, the employee would have one hell of a lawsuit to file. 

Do you truly believe any superior would dismiss historical weather conditions (a day after a practice was moved inside) if one of their employees raised issue with working in conditions like that?  If Sullivan found time to express his thoughts with cyberspace and his 41 followers on Twitter, I would hope he said something to someone on the video crew or to Kelly himself in the time between his initial tweet and the incident itself.
I hope that the investigation finds all the information about everything that was said/done that fateful day, I just do not believe it will be.  However simply to jump to conclusions that because Kelly should take all the blame ultimately with his job is in my mind a little unfair.  The decision is ultimately up to the person making the choice.  After making his decision, Sullivan had over a hour to change his mind in the lift where he controlled the height he was to be stationed at.  He even found time to tweet his fears during that session on the scissor lift.  There has to be some blame associated with the individual because he knew it was dangerous and expressed it yet continued to work.  You have to take responsibility for your own actions/decisions.
The result is tragic no matter who said/did what and it is extremely unfortunate for the friends and family of 20 year old Declan Sullivan.  I just cannot agree to the notion that Brian Kelly is 100% responsible for something that could have been avoided by many parties, including Declan Sullivan himself.
Rock Mamola is the Associate Producer of The Mully And Hanley Morning Show and co-host of The Joe O And Rock Show on WSCR 670AM The Score.
You can follow The Mully And Hanley Morning Show at
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melissa said:


Declan Sullivan made a poor choice to carry out the assigned duties of his job and put himself in a situation that he knew was dangerous. He paid the ultimate price for his choice, I would say that's taking some responsibility. The question is not whether or not we blame Sullivan, he's already faced the consequences. We must decide if there were people in charge that should have stepped up and instructed him to disregard his normal responsibilities and get out of the tower. Let's not act like a 20 year old college kid should have no problem to feel emboldened to approach Notre Dame's Head Football Coach and tell him he refuses to do his job. You don't seem to acknowledge the almost militaristic atmosphere around a college football program. Sullivan knew it was dangerous but for whatever reason didn't choose to refuse to do his job. Maybe he feared he would lose his job, which he probably felt privileged to have or maybe he didn't want to look scared in the hyper-masculine culture of a football team.

Kelly is responsible for the young men under his supervision and he was negligent for allowing anyone to be up in a lift during such horrible conditions. Sullivan paid with his life and I don't think it's a stretch to say that Kelly should pay for his poor management by losing his job. I wouldn't feel the least bit sorry for him considering what others have lost in this situation, a situation Brian Kelly should have prevented.

I heard Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbuk say that he was on the field that day too. He should also lose his job. There is no way he should have overlooked this situation. He claimed in his first presser that it was calm out and all of the sudden a gust came up out of nowhere and knocked over the lift. We all know that's not true. Everyone else knew it was dangerously windy out that day and for Swarbuk to try and cover his behind by saying otherwise is disingenuous and a flat out lie. Swarbuk was negligent and he's Kelly's Boss, he should have stepped in if Kelly didn't. Had either one of these men cared about the safety of the young men on the field that day this terrible event would have never occurred. I have trouble drumming up any sympathy whatsever for Swarbuk or Kelly, there is a young man who's dead and they could have prevented it.

You mentioned that it's been over two weeks since this event occurred but it occurred on October 27th which is just 9 days ago.

Rock Mamola said:


Thanks for checking out the post Melissa.

I have corrected the date of the incident, my mistake. Thank you for that.

It's not a stretch to say Kelly should pay w/his job....I just feel we need to know all the facts first, and then we should make our decision. Based on what we know now however, I just feel that would be an irrational decision to fire him now before any investigation findings are released.

You say Kelly could have prevented this, and to a certain're right. However Sullivan himself could have prevented it too. Militaristic environment or not, if he took time out to tweet his thoughts, I would hope he would speak up to someone the same way.

What Swarbuk said I agree is ridiculous. But I don't think that you can say they don't care about the safety of their young men. They obviously do because they did move practice inside the day before, to me that's an act of making sure safety is a priority.

I appreciate your thoughts, it is a really sensitive matter, but I think it's a conversation that will be going on for months to come.



Tyrone said:

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I am currently in college and I disagree strongly that just because he's over 18, he is an adult. Sure the kid should have realized that it was hazardous. Debating whether or not it is his fault, however, is pointless since he already has paid for his "mistake". The question is who else had some responsibility in the event and needs to face the consequences.

Rock Mamola said:



He's over 18...he's an adult. If not 18, then when?

I agree that he's paid for his "mistake", but if people want to associate blame with what happened they have to look at the person making the "mistake".

I agree with your final statement, and hopefully we get all the info.....just don't think we will.

Thanks for checking out the post


ngomba said:

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I appreciate your thoughts and the fact that you've taken time to respond to the comments.

A young adult is dead. It is rare that anything is ever 100% ANYONE's fault. Your defense of Notre Dame (which doesn't lay blame on anyone connected with the school, except a small swipe at Coach Kelly for sharing a lack common sense with Declan) is in my mind rather appalling, and the fact that you've written an entire article laying the blame for this death on the victim several days after his death has left me shaking my head.

Tweeting to friends rather than standing up to the ND football authorities was a decision that cost this young man his life. But why did it happen? You criticize Declan for not being aware of employment law, but c'mon Rock, this was a 20 year old student, video taping the football team. Football culture, especially one like Notre Dame's, doesn't look kindly on people who complain or say they can't do something.

A 20 year old college student didn't stand up to the Head Coach or Athletic Director when he felt unsafe. You see this as a foolish kid who was responsible for his own death. I see another football program that only cares about its football players and winning. Two months after Lizzy Seeburg (a Notre Dame freshman) committed suicide after allegedly being assaulted by a ND football player, the school still has declined to work with the local authorities.

Since Lizzy committed suicide, I suppose you could write an article about how she's the one to blame for what happened, too. I'm not saying you would, but like a good defense attorney, your strategy seems to be: attack and discredit the victim. Declan made a poor decision to stick up for himself, but the vast majority of the blame should go on the institution which put this young man up in the air, in a culture where he felt unwilling to share his safety concerns, didn't order him come down when the storm got worse, and only noticed him when his lift fell down, damaging the football field, and Notre Dame's reputation.

The practice video Declan was filming as he died- was Coach Kelly still able to use it in preparing for the next game? You could argue Declan was responsible for damaging that, too.

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