Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Them's The Rules

As a result of all the discussions yesterday and today, I was contacted by a current Usher to clarify some points. The person who shared this with me, obviously, does not want any names or positions used for fear of retribution or other hassles from both the public and the school. But he felt it important to get this info out there, so I volunteered to take the hit on this one.

I’m going to use the pronoun “he” for the purposes of description only, although I believe the vast majority of Ushers are men anyway. I’m also not going to copy the things he sent me verbatim so as to reduce the risk of identification.

This person has really enjoyed the people with whom he’s directly worked on the Usher team, and is concerned based on what he’s read here and elsewhere that the Ushers are getting grouped in with the problems going on outside the Stadium in the tailgating areas.

He, along with a lot of the Ushers with whom he works, believes his first job is to assist visitors, regardless of affiliation, in a way that helps them enjoy their Stadium experience, doing things ranging from helping them find seats to helping them find restrooms to taking pictures and so on. He has escorted fans out of the Stadium for alcohol-related issues, but does not believe that to be his primary mission, so he does not seek them out unless they’re causing trouble or otherwise overtly breaking rules. Nor does he believe people should be kicked out or hassled for standing during a football game unless they were also obviously intoxicated and/or using profanity.

While he believes the Usher Captains are under pressure to seek out and handle rule breakers, there is no direct quota he’s aware of or has been communicated to him by anyone in the hierarchy. He believes the more senior Ushers have noticed an increased desire for “pro-active rule enforcement” from the upper level, but don’t agree with or necessarily enforce that policy as it makes them feel more like police officers than ushers. This makes them uncomfortable, as it’s not in the spirit in which they volunteered for the job in the first place.

In closing, he copied the Alcohol Policy for the Stadium, which I’ll summarize:

ND’s policy of alcohol possession and abuse in the stadium is zero-tolerance.

Fans caught with alcohol in the stadium will have tickets confiscated and then be removed from the stadium through the closest gate, with the violation listed as reason for expulsion. Students will be taken to the Public Safety office, their booklets confiscated by NDSP, who will write a report and “finish the removal” (yes, that’s exactly how it’s termed).

Fans attempting to enter the stadium drunk will lose their ticket and be referred to one of the police officers at the gate in question. Fans in the stadium who appear drunk will lose their ticket and be taken to the Public Safety Office.

Students who appear intoxicated are sent to the Public Safety office. Again, booklets go to the NDSP officer, who writes the report and “finishes the removal”.

I wanted to summarize the final paragraph, but couldn’t find a way to do it justice, so here it is verbatim:

“Occasionally, violators of Stadium rules (e.g. smoking after warnings; profanity after warnings; etc.) will appear to have been drinking. As long as they are not intoxicated, if they are removed it shall be in the same manner as alcohol container removals. Students in this category shall not have their tickets confiscated. An alcohol sticker will describe the violation.”

We wondered what the policy was, now we know. And as GI Joe would say, knowing is half the battle. Some thoughts, all mine:

First, it really disturbs me there is nothing in that policy to indicate any kind of measuring standard for "intoxication". The exact wording is people who “appear to be intoxicated”, and if you violate that, your ticket is gone and you’re sent right to the tank. It may be defined elsewhere, but if it were, I would expect a reference to that definition somewhere in the regulation. It's not there, so either the regulation is poorly written or that standard doesn't exist. Neither possibility is comforting.

Second, given that lack of definition, why is the first and only move a hand-off to South Bend's or St. Joe County's finest? Those people weren't any less "intoxicated" standing by their cars 15 minutes before they walked into the Stadium, yet people aren't being arrested en masse during pregame. There's also the possibility people could be detained without true cause.

Finally, where does the infamous "campus ban" crap fit in to all this? The regs go so far as to describe the actions of the NDSP people in cases of student infractions. South Bend and St. Joe cops aren't authorized to ban anyone from campus. So where does that little cherry sit on this sundae? Or is that an improvisation on Bill Kirk's part, much like the police badge story reported on the board yesterday?

All of this strikes me as a very poorly put together policy borne of a lack of imagination in the upper echelons. My hope is with the arrival of the new General Counsel for ND this week, such things will be better handled.

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Blogger Naithan said...

The big picture is being missed:

I really think the focus has been rightfully on the ushers but that is a limited scope IMO and misses the bigger picture. As you all work through this you shouldn't lose site of the offenses that take place in the lots and the overarching theme that surrounds campus life in general and seems to affect off campus dwellings and SB bars and pubs.

There seems to be such a focus on Cappy because of how prolifically entertaining his interactions are that NDSP, excise police, Indiana state police, mounted cops et. al. are not getting mentioned nearly as much as the ushers.

This may be an affect of indiana irish's story being the one that essentially broke the camels back and that it had to do with an interaction within the stadium confines, but personally I feel out of all of the entities in concert with Bill Kirks approval the NDSP and excise police and St. Joe "party raiders" are the most egregious.

Cappy and his charges may be one path to change but the overall vacuum in leadership quality that enabled this lies squarely in the admin and Joyce buildings.

The ushers are one of many smaller players, and seeing as though they are volunteers they are a much smaller issue than allowing paid professional police to unleash a program of studied and targeted abuse for the sake of profit and job justification.

Kirk, Poorman, Affleck-Graves, O'Hara, and yes even Swarbrick are the ones who need to make a definitive and substantive public statement.

I could care a less what cappy or any of the rest of the ushers have to say because frankly they are just following an example and are the last in the chain of abuse.

eyes on the prize.

9/30/2008 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The university has made it clear that it is making the reduction of underage drinking on campus a priority--in the dorms, at tailgates, etc.

Why should we surprised that they are acting in a way consistent with their stated intent? If you want to drink, fine, but understand that the consequences for being caught are yours and yours alone.

The only truly abusive, unjust situations here are when people who have not violated a law have been mistreated.

9/30/2008 03:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Naithan that we are misdirecting our angst and blaming too much on the ushers and Cappy.

Yes, he's part of the culture which people have a problem with, but we originally were angry with the atmosphere of intimidation and bullying from the police/NDSP around and inside the stadium.

Cappy's responses is throwing fuel onto a fire he might not know is burning, and we're going after him instead of the groups that are actually doing the real damage. The ushers, at times, are enabling the Notre Dame game day police-state, but a change in their attitude and culture wouldn't really make much of an impact if police are performing bathroom sting operations in the student section or assaulting guests that temporarily lost their balance.

We should be worried about: lifetime campus bans to people who blow 0.007 or higher on breathalyzers, coordinated inter-agency raids on private residences without warrant or complaint, intimidating actions towards private law abiding citizens who are not a danger to themselves or others, and all the other stories posted here in the past couple of days.

9/30/2008 03:35:00 PM  
Anonymous jc1241981 said...

I have read all the posts on NDNation since this issue broke. I am not an ND grad, but I was born and raised in South Bend. I am a lifelong ND supporter, and have attended about a dozen games over the years.
As a grad student at MSU, I had the opportunity to attend a game at Spartan stadium. I would say that ND's tailgate's pale in comparison. The point is not to say that the Spartan's are better fans, as I have found the ND student section to be much friendlier and loyal (MSU students often leave early if they are losing). What I am attempting to show is that a certain level of alcohol use is acceptable and *gasp* conducive to a fanatic environment. The word fanatacism itself implies behavior outside the bounds of rationality. Alcohol helps us to loosen the inhibitions that would keep us from screaming, gesticulating, etc. This release from reality has two effects. First, it acts as a sort of catharsis for the fan. Much as fiction or movies allows us to temporarily escape reality, this release can improve mood and indeed help the student escape from the life of exams and studying.
Second, sports psychologists suggest that a loud fan base can elicit a primal fear reaction in the athletes (especially younger college athletes) in a manner that breaks their concentration encourages mistakes (admittedly, a gross paraphrase). However, alcohol also can cause problems. So, obviously, with pros and cons, there must be a balance.
I don't know if the old system was broken, so I really don't see a need to fix it. The usher's handbook allows for interpretation of "intoxication" that is beyond the scope of an usher. I spent eight years obtaining a medical degree to receive the right to perform a neurological examination that was legally binding enough to make me liable if inaccurate. I believe that police officers with little or no medical training are unfit to assess a neurological condition such as drunkenness, let alone the ushers.
So where does that leave us? I can understand the need for giving less qualified people the authority to perform a cursory neurological exam to keep impaired drivers off the road. However, with this authority should come similar liability that accompanies a physician for malpractice. This would keep power-hungry law-school rejects that often fill up a police force from abusing their power. In addition, what level of intoxication is acceptable? Why does drunkenness, in the absence of operating a motor vehicle, or being under the age of 21, have to be punished at all? If a person is not a danger to themselves or others, what is the harm? If someone is to cite health hazards, we would also have to ban smoking, and for that mater, bratwurst for those with a significant cardiac history from the parking lots. Is it reasonable for a police officer to whip out a stethoscope and detain an obese person for apparently having an elevated level of cholesterol(please understand the role of sarcasm before a pre-med decides to re-educate me on health risk stratification)?
If a person worries about the image of the school, or safety to others, this would limit prosecution to extreme intoxication, which should be fairly obvious and not require a n amateur neuro exam or a arbitrarily assigned legal limit for blood-alcohol level.
My solution has been used at different learning institutions, rock venues, and bars worldwide. Hire bouncers. They know when drunk people are out of control and need to leave, yet they do not have the power to permanently mar the record of a budding professional. The police in lower numbers should be enough to handle the extreme cases.
Finally, the increased police presence reeks of a scam I saw while in East Lansing. Ingham county leads the nation in drunk-driving arrest. However, a first offender can preserve his or her record by paying the county court around $1,000, and $3,500 in attorney fees. The amount is no accident. The fees, strangely enough, are less than the attorney fees to take the case to court. It ends up being cheaper just to pay the fines. Sound familiar?
Money talks. If donors refuse to donate, if the students unify to boycott, or sit silently during a game, or if people record the actions of police officers (all legal, by the way), this behavior could relent. Also, our country is not meant to be a police state. I would encourage anyone with enough money to contact an attorney. It may cost you a little more in the long run, but the injustice will continue until someone steps up and calls SBPD's bluff.

9/30/2008 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Russell said...

Thank your lucky stars the Notre Dame Stadium ushers take their jobs very seriously, and that they see it as a privilege, as well. A great football experience includes great fans. Mean or silly drunks inside the stadium are all about themselves, selfish, incomplete, pathetic. Notre Dame is known for having the most football savvy fans in the country, dedicated to the team, respectful of the game, ultimately aware that a home ticket is a rare and exciting invitation to a memorable experience. If the ushers help keep it that way, by keeping out the drunks, then they get great credit. And I'm not theorizing. I've been to many Notre Dame games on campus, and the level of "ushering" is like a different world, a distinguished skill and talent. Compare it to the zoos at other colleges which stadiums turn into during a game, and be grateful. As for letting the intoxicated inside in the first place: if it's borderline, it's not a bad policy to give them a chance to behave, to be transformed, so to speak, by the charismatic atmosphere of game time in Notre Dame Stadium

9/30/2008 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Bret said...

Many of these replies are correct. The ushers are the least of my worries when I am at Notre Dame Stadium. Usually the ushers are polite (sometimes the ones in the student section erred on the demanding side) and gave me the benefit of the doubt. The major problem is the Notre Dame policy of allowing SBPD and Indiana state police to dictate how a football game is managed. They don't know what Notre Dame means to many of us and frankly I believe they despise Notre Dame students and alumni in general.

It is not the ushers, it is Bill Kirk and the rest of the aministration selling out the fans and allowing all types of law enforcement to run amuck.

Arrests without probable cause, abusive behaviour, ridiculous tickets? What is to stop the police from picking out any individual they want from drinking and giving out a citation? What are we to do? Notre Dame has to stand up and govern what goes on in the parking lot. We have our own police force. Make them do their job and do it right! I am afraid this will not happen until Notre Dame begins to hear complaints from the upper eschelon of alumni. And I hope it happens soon. If it makes any difference, the university will not receive a dime from me until I see a change.

9/30/2008 08:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the majority of the ushers try to do the best job they can. However, I have been told by some of them, that Cappy Gagnon, who is in charge of the ushers, encourages the ushers to look for anyone who is intoxicated. He calls his ushers "Beer Nazis". Does this sound like he encourages a kind and gentle approach in dealing with the fans? I don't think so. I fault not only Cappy, but his superiors in the Athletics
Department for allowing this attitude to be encouraged and continued.

9/30/2008 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger Naithan said...

Mike Russell have you read a single account or are you just adding comments sight unseen.

Thank god for SOME of the ushers, but by all means pull your head out of the sand vis a vis the law enforcement culture up there.

This isn't about "drunks" it is about behaving adults having a beverage or not in many cases and being treated outside the bounds of decency.

If you are disgusted with public drunkenness then I assume you also have a problem with women being handled poorly, a sick vet being pushed around until his illness from the war acts up and how about the fellow depantsed publicly and humiliated and then called an expletive vulgar word describing a vagine by a genetic female in uniform no less.

take a breath and read these accounts before signing off of something as being great and wholesome.

One question for you, have you ever had a drink? You seem to carry a tone of the same culture that hates any and all drink and considers people that consume even miniscule amounts to be a problem or a nuisance.

Honestly I dont think i have enough words to describe my passionate feelings about that sort of attitude.

9/30/2008 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Russell said...

Sounds like your passion is having a drink, Chug-a-lug. Take a look at yourself in the mirror.

9/30/2008 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Naithan said...


"chug a lug"

who is this Cappy himself, Bill Kirk?

Your lack of ny sunstantive response tells me and others reading this blog plenty about you.

Thank you for showing the depth of your understanding of both people and issues.

It's about those stupid booze houds ruining it for the rest of the Flander's type families. right Mike? (if that is your real name)

10/01/2008 09:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been attending ND games for over 25 years and I have never seen the type of situations being described. I am sure some of them occur but with over 80,000 people at a game there is bound to be a few people that will cause a problem.

As for Ushers, I have also been an Usher for 5 years and the purpose of the Usher is to greet fans and to try and insure they have a good time in an environment that is safe and fun. There is NO mandate to remove as many people as possible as one blogger suggested. An Usher should insure that no fan is being abusive or bothering other fans. IF noted then you speak to the fan or fans and 99.99% of the time that is all that is needed. On a rare occasion a fan may be abusive or drunk. You remove the fan and walk him/her outside and if they "appear" drunk you escort them to security. This is done more for safety of others than to punish the fan who is drunk. NO one wants a person who can barely walk or stand up to get behind the wheel of a car.

I think Cappy does a good job and his only concern is that fans are able to enjoy themselves in a safe environment. It is easy to criticize but is it much more complex to insure the safety and well being of 80,000 people than many understand. If mistakes are made they should be reviewed and corrected. NO ONE is happy if someone is not treated properly. When you have 900 Ushers there may be a few that may not react properly or may not be as capable as others. This should be noted by Section Captains and they should be let go or more likely reassigned to an easier section or job. The ones I have observed or work with have been great and care more about ND than anyone else.

As for the SBPD and the others police officials I think there is a problem and they seem to be too aggressive. One does not know if this is with University support or not. If it is or not it needs to be corrected and sooner than later.


10/01/2008 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We Irish fans, who like to have a few drinks and watch our beloved football team play their hearts out, aren't all "selfish, incomplete, [and] pathetic."

However, on behalf of the entire drinking fanbase...I am deeply sorrowed that we ruin your Saturday week in and week out. Get off your high horse, pal.

10/01/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Russell said...

naithan--my last comment. Include your real name and address in your next ineptly wry comment and I'll send you a Best of the Beastie Boys CD for Christmas. The ethos in Notre Dame Stadium is Notre Dame football, not a bacchanal. The ushers do the job of allowing fans to watch the game and appreciate the honored tradition. One question--have you ever been to a college game anywhere else? You might see the very disturbing results of the right to party ethos you espouse, Naithan Par-tay!

10/01/2008 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

Mike, your strawman isn't helping the conversation. No one is advocating the complete right to drink as much as they want and act however they want. No one is advocating allowing individual bad behavior to run rampant.

The issue here is someone who is not bothering anyone who get grabbed out of a crowd, blows a lower BAC than would get someone a DUI, and gets sent to the St. Joe drunk tank as a result. How is that a good policy for anyone?

10/01/2008 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Naithan said...


You sure know how to move a conversation ina productive direction.

To answer two of your questions.

1. This is my name

2. Yes I have been to plenty of other college football games besides ND and shocker f shockers they are mostly peaceful. Now if you have some unnatural aversion even to people that consume responsibly then yeah, obviously Mike, you are going to have a world view of "that's what they get".

The question when juxtaposed against reality is actually is that really what they SHOUL get?

the answer is very different to that question than the the one that suits your Ned Flanders like comfort level and view of "acceptable"

Personally if we are talking about decency then I would think just one of these stories would register with you, but I have my suspicions wit hthat as well considering the language and between the lines language in your replies.

I know enough about your answers so another reply isn't necessary. I already heard it when I wrote this.

thanks "Mike Russell" for your time.

10/01/2008 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Russell said...


10/01/2008 06:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Brendan said...

Last weekend I had the unforgettable experience of taking my 11 year old son and my 9 year old daughter to their first Notre Dame football game, along with my wife. We were fortunate enough to get all 4 tickets together, right on the goal line, 15 rows up under the American flag. We all had a blast, without drinking. Sure there were several others in our tailgating crowd (we arrived at 8:00 AM) who had a few beers, all great. We went into the stadium early enough to see the Irish warm up and the band come out. My childrens eyes were as wide as saucers. They both, quite seriously stated that they were definitely going to attend Notre Dame, which thrilled me. We'll worry about the grades and the dollars soon enough. My son, as we left campus after his first trip, told me that he would one day play football for the Fighting Irish. That brought tears to my eyes. Anyway, just when the game was about to start, 4 Purdue T-shirt wearing, drunken fans came in and sat right next to us. These guys, perhaps students or recent grads were so obviously drunk you could see it and smell it. I'm a tolerant guy, so we were friendly. As the game progressed 2 of the guys sobered up and actually were very friendly to all of the ND fans surrounding them. The other 2 didn't sober up much, in fact just before halftime, 1 one them, so drunk he could barely speak, vomitted all over his feet. Lucky for him he didn't vomit on the 275 lb. ND fan in front of him. The Boiler Puker was lead out by one of his buddies and proceeded to heave more as he entered the concession area. We later found out that he was arrested and taken down town. The point that I will now make is that the ND experience, the atmosphere, the mystique, the football game was not dampened at all by these drunken fools. It's too powerful that these idiots couldn't change any of that even if they tried. They were dealt with by the ushers and the police as they should have been and we all had a great time. My kids will always remember that weekend as their maiden pilgrimage to ND du lac and, I'm sure that we will quickly forget those drunken Purdue fans who let alcohol ruin their day, and not anyone elses. There is no place at an ND football game for drunkeness. Have a few drinks, have fun, but don't get drunk, it only hurts the drinker. I disagree that we need alcohol in order to cheer like the fanatics that we are. To take a side in this debate, I'll go with Mike. jc1241981, you just like to hear yourself ramble. Naitan, your logic is simply nonsense.

10/03/2008 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous tednict said...

Excellent post Brendan.

10/26/2008 09:43:00 AM  

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