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  • Don’t Shoot the Messengers

    by Mike Coffey

    Yes yes, we’re the meanies again.  Same as it ever was.

    Folks are now getting upset because people on our restricted football board, Rock’s House, are discussing the possible connections between Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick and the scandal currently overwhelming the United States Gymnastics program and its tolerance of a serial sexual predator in their medical staff.  As the investigation continues and expands, Michigan State University, who employed Nassar, is finding itself a target of further investigation, and people are concerned Notre Dame, thanks to Jack Swarbrick’s history with US Gymnastics, may get dragged into this maelstrom.

    This analysis is not sitting well with some folks.  We wouldn’t care about this if Notre Dame football won more games, they say.  There’s no evidence of a connection so we shouldn’t be saying anything, they claim.  We’re feeding the media and getting Notre Dame into trouble, they bleat.

    Speaking for myself,my opinion about all this is best summarized by Admiral Painter:

    If anyone actually believes Swarbrick’s involvement in all this would be completely unknown yet for some comments on a message board, calling you dumber than a box of hair would be an insult to hair.  The man’s resume is all over the Internet, and chances are it’s already been noticed by people who’s actual job it is to look at these things.  This vortex is only getting larger and more hysterical, and everyone even peripherally involved is going to be swept up into it.  Sooner or later, the actions of US Gymnastics’ General Counsel(s) will be called into question, with people wondering what they knew and when they knew it, and that’s going to happen whether people post or not.

    If Notre Dame is smart, they’re getting D’ed up.  If Notre Dame is smart, they’re already asking these questions and finding solid answers, not sitting in a corner with eyes and ears covered and fingers crossed hoping no one notices them.  Waiting until the tsunami hits is not the time to head to high ground, especially if the sirens are already going off.

    Trouble is, I have little evidence of their capabilities here.  Forgive me if recent past performance doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies that the Dome is getting out in front of this.  Their handling of matters like Declan Sullivan, Lizzie Seeburg, and the recent academic scandals on the football team, don’t lend confidence that when the real investigators come, they’ll be prepared.

    I’m not a fan of Jack Swarbrick, and I’ve never tried to pretend otherwise.  But my fervent hope here is there was no involvement on his part.  Because if he becomes a part of this investigation — and if his name is on those case files the Indianapolis Star is pursuing via FOIA, you can be damn sure he will be — even though he wasn’t an employee at the time, Notre Dame gets involved in the investigation, and who knows what collateral damage will result?

    Need an example?  Fine.  Let’s talk about Jack’s Notre Dame biography page.  As chronicled in the synopsis linked above, at one point, that biography lauded his work for US Gymnastics in the list of accomplishments prior to his employment.  But at some point between late 2013 and mid 2015 — which, if you read the Nassar timeline, is when MSU’s president was notified of a sexual assault complaint against him — that information was removed from the biography.

    Perhaps not a big deal, bios get updated all the time.  But let me ask this the way an actually empowered investigator will:  What was the decision process leading up to that change?

    Was it Swarbrick tasking an intern with changing the biography?  That’s on him and he did it for whatever reasons he did it.

    Or was it the result of a discussion between Swarbrick and other people at Notre Dame?  Whether it was just to avoid “bad optics” or whatever, that smells like something a lot more.  And even the smell can cause Notre Dame a lot of headache and heartache.  Just ask Tom Izzo.

    Get pissed at the site all you want.  There’s no whole-cloth fabrication here — we’re looking at facts and very very worried about consequences.  Dislike for Swarbrick is completely irrelevant.  Notre Dame is on the tracks and a train is coming.  They either need to know how to stop that train or get the hell off the tracks.

    16 Responses to “Don’t Shoot the Messengers”

    1. Mike, just one suggestion. I think this would be stronger and more “forwardable” without using a-holes. We’re the jerks or we’re the meanies would convey the point but I’d feel better sending the link to my father and others.

      I may also be a prude though…

    2. Mark Harman says:

      Oh please, Mike, every poster on your site is absolutely salivating at the thought of Swarbrick somehow being in the wrong here and finally getting rid of him. Unless he had personal knowledge of specific cases and kept quiet, or if he deliberately helped draft or promoted policies knowing that they would harm the gymnasts, then there is nothing to see here. Nothing. And so far there is a whole lot of nothing going on. I said as much on the UHND site. But then again, contrary opinion and diversity of thought is welcome there, unlike at ND Nation.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        Except we don’t know if there’s nothing to see, and, as I said, I’m not confident the Dome is getting in front of this. Waiting until someone with subpoena power gets involved is too late.

        And I don’t recall deleting any posts objecting to the position from the site. You want to post it there, be my guest.

      • John Mosier says:

        See “box of hair” reference.

      • You really didn’t get the “Don’t shoot the messengers” part of an article titled “Don’t Shoot the Messengers.”

        You also missed a plethora of post like mine that said the following in response to a comment that this would be a non-issue if the football program were better because we really want the man replaced by someone who would preside over more success.

        Pay particular attention to the last sentence which happens to be a common sentiment. Anyone who has taken the time to read the board before reacting to it understands that. The post said:

        If Swarbrick’s role in the USAG mess were shown to be ethically unacceptable, I would be disappointed that the person who engineered ND’s football renaissance would have to leave the university; but I still would want him gone. Of course, we don’t know what his role actually was; so questions, not actions, are appropriate at this point.

        My association with Notre Dame goes back a long way. I often have disagreed with university leaders and university policies; but the principles that drove the leaders and were behind those policies were rooted in faith, clear, and unequivocal. I always respected that even when I didn’t necessarily like the result.

        This is a situation that calls for that construct. Parents trusted their children to the staffs of the organizations involved. That trust was betrayed in unspeakable ways, and the girls who were abused were forced to deal with the result both before they had the intellectual and emotional capacity to do so and then forever afterwards. Notre Dame must ensure that it doesn’t become party that the horror by circling the wagons around Jack Swarbrick. It must be transparent. It must show that its principles still are rooted in faith, clear, and unequivocal.

        I want the questions asked, and I pray the answers are satisfactory.

      • In his deposition in 2012, Swarbrick states under oath he was aware of sexual misconduct in the USA
        Gymnastics program. There are indications from quotes attributed to him regarding gym operator
        liability that suggests the issue of sexual misconduct in youth gymnastics was on his radar in the 1990s.
        This is before the Nassar stuff became publicized. It is clear the former General Counsel of USA
        Gymnastics was aware of this issue before the general public. It’s not exactly unreasonable or some
        sort of witch hunt to ask how did he know, what did he know, and when did he know it? Burying your
        head in the sand because you don’t like the people on NDNation is no better than dismissing the people
        at SNAP because you think they have an axe to grind with the Catholic Church. Demanding answers and
        accountability is what people who love Notre Dame should be doing.

        There’s no debating that people would rather Swarbrick not have had any involvement in any form, not
        just from an ND perspective, but because any decent person would hope that the circle of people who
        had knowledge and could have done something about this was as small as possible. That is what is most
        disturbing about the issues with the Catholic Church, PSU, USA Gymnastics, MSU, Baylor, etc. What
        happened wasn’t because of a few absolutely horrible “people,” but because of the sheer number of
        supposedly good people who knew and didn’t do anything about it.

        Do I know what Swarbrick knew and when he knew it? No. None of us do. But there’s an awful lot of
        smoke. Acting as if there isn’t event the possibility of a fire is at best irresponsible, and at worst,
        enabling. I want no part of it. And neither should anyone who cares even the slightest bit about Notre
        Dame and more importantly, the victims in the past, present, and future who deserved and continue to
        deserve better support and help than this.

      • Sorry, Mark, I have to disagree with you on two points: (1) I’m hoping that Jack Swarbrick is absolved of any involvement here because (2) I’m a Jack Swarbrick supporter, have been for years, and haven’t felt any hesitation expressing that on this site in the past. I will grant that sometimes the tone of the discussion may not always show respect for differing opinions, but I’m willing to chalk that up to the passion people feel about our school.

        However, I think we’re missing the point here. We should be supporting the truth. Hundreds of little girls were abused by an animal who had been reported to people who could have done something about it, but didn’t. I’m really, really hoping Jack Swarbrick didn’t know, but if he did, I’m not interested in ND managing the message. If the truth is that Jack Swarbrick knew but didn’t do anything to try to protect these girls, I will own a share of the blame: WE took as one of OUR OWN someone who did not live up to our Christian standards, and as blameless as ND might be legally, I feel I need to be humble and try to make amends.

        I understand that others will want to disagree with me, but I would ask you to first look at what our faith teaches us.

        • Michael Blaes says:

          I agree. Farsdahl makes the point that this isn’t about anything except what should be a shared quest for truth. Especially in light of the deeply troubling nature of the crimes.

          As for me, I doubt he did anything unethical, but given that any of his communications would be subject to attorney client privilege…the breathless concern about him being implicated is unwarranted.

    3. I see nothing divisive, negative, or anti-Notre Dame about the discussions on Rock’s House about a very sickening and sad and criminal situation that could cloud the school’s reputation. No one should deride intelligent fact based discussions on a topic that could swell and diminish the university.

    4. My concern is at Michigan State the investigation has grown from Dr. Nassar to sexual misdeeds by the athletes covered up or brushed aside by the institution and local law enforcement. Granted, Notre Dame Police do not have to release any information involving allegations or charges against athletes thanks to the court ruling, but I believe tougher times regarding this “exemption” are around the corner, particularly if stories like these permeate the news at other academic institutions.

    5. All of these things are simultaneously true:

      1) There are ties between Swarbrick and USA Gymnastics for which ND should be doing its due diligence in light of all that has come out recently. You’re 100% right about that.

      2) The odds Swarbrick did something terminable during his representation of USA Gymnastics is small, and much smaller than most folks here seem to be appreciating.

      3) There are posters here who would like Swarbrick gone by any means necessary. A not insignificant amount of these people would be less interested in this story if the football team were doing better. I don’t think it’s a majority of posters, but I suspect it’s not a negligible amount either.

      4) The message board sleuthing is weird and one step away from conspiracy theorizing. Reddit detectives are, by and large, not heroes. That principle also applies to Rock’s House.

      5) There are reasons to think that the ND administration will not do a great job preparing, as you say. If you’re really concerned about this, the thing to do is not Get Mad on the Internet, but, you know, write a letter to the ND Office of General Counsel and/or call the Indy Star and SBT to make sure they are looking into it.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        I’m curious as to your basis for (2), other than hope. I don’t know what those odds are, and neither do you. Notre Dame needs to find out.

        I think there are posters who want Jack gone no matter what. I know some of them felt that way in 2012, 2015, and early this season too, and the football team was doing fine.

        I haven’t seen anything posted that is a “conspiracy theory”. Everything in the linked synopsis is backed by source material.

        (5) has already been taken care of.

        Regarding the other comment you mentioned, that should not have been approved, I thought it had been trashed, obviously I missed it.

        • As to my basis for #2, it is primarily based on a familiarity with successful large law firm lawyers and how they operate. Just because they represent large organizations does not mean they become amoral or immoral toadies. My experience is that, instead, large law firms and successful lawyers tend to engage in CYA strategy whenever and wherever possible – that would cut against thinking as outside counsel he helped cover for them.

          Furthermore, it’s not like USA Gymnastics was some humongous money-making and business-generating client for lawyers (at least until recent events) – presumably the bigger benefit to Jack in his representing them was reputational rather than pecuniary. It would not make sense to risk that by covering up for horrific malfeasance that could eventually come out one way or another – and, thus, completely blow up the reputational personal benefit of being their lawyer.

          Of course, it is not outside the realm of possibility – there are often overzealous or even corrupt large law firm lawyers who ultimately engage in shameful and/or illegal activity, notwithstanding that high-profile lawyers are in positions where they have the opportunity to do so. But they are relatively few, and there’s no particularly good reason to think that Jack Swarbrick is one of them.

          So, to my point: the odds of malfeasance are non-zero, but low.

          • I just realized my last full paragraph reads oddly thanks to some poor editing. My point is there are often *stories* of such corrupt/criminal lawyers, but in the grand scheme of things they are relatively few relative to the number of lawyers who are in positions where malfeasance would be possible and do not engage in such activity.

      • Mike Honcho says:

        You’re just guessing on #3 – and I think it’s a strange line of argument to say some people “would” look the other way conditional on ND’s football success, when that criticism is largely coming from people who want to squash all discussion, period. I think the pool of potential Paterno Apologists derives more from the latter group.

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