“Touchdown Jesus:” At Notre Dame, Anti-Choicers Use Abortion As a Political Football. Literally

The University of Notre Dame has a long history of
worshipping the sport of football, complete with jokes about their "Touchdown
  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
college football.

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.

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.

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  • jgbeam

    Worry not, pro-choicers. You won’t find Notre Dame in your way.


    as well as many other sources.

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • amanda-marcotte

    For proving my point, that the is mainly an assault on intellectual freedom, using religious dogma as cover.

  • crowepps

    Your link seems to sum up that to be a ‘real Catholic’ school it must allow the curriculum to be set by the ‘teaching authority’ of the uber-Catholic authoritarians in Rome.  Since this would, by definition, outlaw any actual ‘thinking’ by teachers or students and instead promote rote learning of ‘approved’ facts and inculcate ‘obedience’, I agree with you that the term ‘Catholic University’ might be an oxymoron.


  • shakahi

    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.


    This. As someone who likes sports, mainly MLB and college football, basketball and volleyball, I’m tired of people assuming that everyone interested in sports hates women. Even us women apparently hate women. Or they like to believe women don’t really like sports while real men are true fans.


    I think the best example of the TRUE forced birth agenda is perfectly articulated by Huckabee on his 6/08/09 visit to The Daily Show. http://bit.ly/6LA3eH


    He flat out says that his entire agenda is founded in his fear that one day, maybe, possibly, in the future, somehow, somewhere his children may not treat him with the all due deference he has come to expect. So he doesn’t care about life or babeez or women or even fetal life. He’s just worried that abortion could effect his privileged status. That’s it. His status and his obsession to keep it, while keeping everyone else out, has led him to a paranoid fantasy where if one woman has an abortion his children won’t return his phone calls immediately.

  • jgbeam

    just not in conflict with the teaching authority of the Church.  The oxymoron is your spin.

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • crowepps

    I don’t think it’s fair to imply that everyone who opposes abortion "hates women" either.  Many of them sincerely and honestly believe that they must save women from being ‘hurt’ by abortion because they are unable to perceive that their conceptualization of  ‘woman’ has little connection with reality.  In addition, they are grossly ignorant of the physical facts of reproduction, pregnancy and birth.

  • princess-rot

    I would wonder how one became to possess such a slim volume of understanding about women. Unless you (generic you) are a hermit with no other contact with other humans, there is little excuse for seeing women firstly as incubation devices, and as people second. I know reproduction is heavily romanticized, but there is only so far my mind will allow ignorance of reality based on society’s baby obsession and/or patriarchy.

    Maybe it’s just because I cannot wrap my head around why anyone thinks a fetus is more important than a born female, so much more important that they’d demand that female give exclusive use of her body for nine months and then everything for the next twenty years or the rest of her life. Or, they will try to make her thoughts for her, namely that the only "loving" she can do is labor and give it up in adoption, as if to imply that she has no real and worthy opinion on the matter.They say slavery is bad but demand this specialized type of slave service from half the population. We’re invisible, irresponsible and inconsequential next to the baby, until it’s born, then suddenly we’re visible and wholly responsible.

    Hoo boy, am I in a cynical mood this morning.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Once religion starts censoring academics, then it’s setting the agenda and stifling intellectual freedom.  Plus, religion usually only gets involved when reality itself is inconvenient.  In this case, the fact that there’s no scientific reason to believe women are inferior to men or that women’s "role" on earth is to bear children and nothing else, and so religion has to get involved to squish these inconvenient realities, and substitute myths.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I agree that some people are dupes of the misogynists.  But when they are willing dupes, I put them in the misogynist category.  Anyone who wasn’t so disgusted by Ben Nelson’s "separate checks" thing that they see the light is moving quickly from the ignorant to willfully ignorant, and therefore misogynist, category. 


    And therein lies the rub.  I think a lot of people are really misogynist without believing this of themselves.  Racists, in my experience, kind of enjoy being racist, even if they’ll deny it publicly.  But a lot of misogynists think they "love" women—and they do.  Women that adhere to their stifling gender roles.  But if you are disgusted by female sexuality, which is the primary urge behind the anti-choice movement, then you’re a misogynist, in my opinion.  


    And def on the sports thing.  My man used to be in sports journalism, and he and his writing cohort are adamant feminists.  And they were frustrated by the way that loving football was equating with automatic sexism, an attitude they found amongst a lot of hardcore fans, which saddens me.  But they and others are doing what they can to resist this, and point out that football offers a lot more than merely sanctuary from having to treat women with respect.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I think the existence of them makes a lot of people want to rethink the "anti-choice=misogyny" position.  Not for me, though.  There are just a lot of female misogynists, and not all of them are super nasty.  A lot of them are bought into the myth about female submission, and they hate other women who reject it for making them feel stupid.  And a lot of them don’t live by the rules they make for the rest of us, and see us merely as plebes to be controlled.  It’s a lot like the way that an open atheist like Karl Rove is willing to cater to fundamentalist Christians for his own gain.

  • jodi-jacobson

    is to enlist women as enforcers of misogyny.


    Research from throughout the world shows that women living in cultures expressing extreme patriarchal control themselves become enforcers of the methods of control.


    For example, in surveys the majority of women in cultures where intimate partner violence is widespread grow up believing that women "deserve" to be beaten if they "burn the rice," "disobey their husbands," and so on.  And they reinforce these norms on their daughters, becoming part of the culture of blame of women.


    Likewise, women are the principal enforcers of female genital mutilation where it is still widely practiced, not because they thought it up, but because they have been brainwashed since birth to believe they themselves are dirty and unworthy and therefore their daughters will be "dirty," "unworthy," "unmarriageable," and a dishonor to their families if they are not mutiliated.  FGM is nothing if not about the control of women’s sexuality and their very humanity.


    Pick another issue, like child marriage, and again you have the same thing.


    These are but a few examples of how culturally embedded norms are internalized and perpetuated by women, and why real education, women’s rights movements, and organizing among women is so profoundly threatening to fundamentalist movements, and why so many women are themselves misogynists.  It is a survival skill, a form of acceptance in a misogynistic culture, and a way of keeping other women under control.  I don’t excuse it in relation to the anti-choice movement in this country.  I simply think it is all part of the same endemic inculculation of women that goes on everywhere.

  • crowepps

    So far as I can understand the lack of logic, if women are ‘allowed’ to get abortions, if women are ‘allowed’ to be simultaneously psychologically healthy AND not want to be pregnant, if it is socially acceptable for women to not want to have children, then there won’t be any more children ever because why would any woman ever want to voluntarily turn herself into a slave?


    Then there’s the whole ‘no choices for Mommy’ meme that you hear so often here – ‘I was a fetus and the world would have been much worse off without ME but don’t think for a minute I owe my mother anything for letting me be born because she OWED me my life.’ 

  • crowepps

    "I lived through it … so will she."


    Some women, having subsumed their personality, surrended their freedom and put up with egregious abuse in order to be ‘accepted’ by their local social or religious culture, are absolutely infuriated by those who are able to retain their individuality. If they had to suffer, then nobody else should ever be allowed to escape and be happy.


    A very young girl was brought into the Barrow clinic with a sexually transmitted disease. She was afraid to say the name of her abuser. But everyone knew who it was. He was a “respected elder” who has been abusing girls his entire life. He might have even started with his sisters. He sexually abused his daughters and was now doing his granddaughters.


    This young girl had an older sister, now an adult, who brought her in for treatment. We took the older sister aside and asked her if she would speak to the police, if she would tell them what her sister was afraid to tell us. We asked her to tell the police what happened to her so the abuser could be stopped and her sister would not have to suffer anymore. Her answer? “I lived through it and grew up and got out. So will she. If I say something, my family will be mad at me.”



  • paul-bradford



    Rather than dispute any of your contentions, I would like to ask you a simple question: Who are you expecting to engage?


    Do you expect you’re going to be able to have a productive dialogue with folks you call ‘Fetus People’ or ‘Sex Panickers’?  If you focus your attention on reactionary authoritarians who promote anti-intellectualism and misogyny, you’ll never be able to get into a discussion about appropriate strategies for protecting women and for protecting the unborn.


    I’ll let you in on a little secret — the Pro-Lifers that bug you are the Pro-Lifers that bug me.  I was one of the Catholics involved in the dispute over Obama delivering the commencement address at Notre Dame in May — and I was on the side that supported his invitation.  The people who objected to his coming are not advancing the cause of social justice — not for women, and not for the unborn. 


    But conversation has to be engaged — taunts and ridicule won’t help, neither will a policy of ignoring moderate Pro-Lifers who are well educated and who support equality for women. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • crowepps

    But conversation has to be engaged — taunts and ridicule won’t help,

    Well, actually, ridicule would help a great deal.  When the defense budget or NASA budget come up, there isn’t a lot of coverage in the media of the views of absolute pacificsts or those who ‘believe in’ alien abductions because they’re so far out on the fringe nobody cares what they think.


    Once it’s the common perception that ‘Fetus People’ and ‘Sex Panickers’ don’t deserve a large voice in the dialogue because their opinions are fringe, based in their own neuroses and laughably simplistic, perhaps the ‘moderate Pro-Lifers’ and the ‘moderate Pro-Choicers’ can get some reasonable public policies in place.