|OSU President Gordon Gee|
Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State University and a Mormon has come under fire from heads of other universities and in the media after he made made offensive comments about Notre Dame and Catholics during a meeting this past December.
Gee is beating an old gong, one that was often produced in the bad old days.
As the pre-eminent American Catholic University Notre Dame has often suffered such slurs. Their original team name was the Notre Dame Catholics, a proud statement at a time when anti-Catholicism was rife in the Midwest.
As the Catholic underdog Notre Dame was held out of rivalries for many years especially against schools such as Michigan. Only when Army eventually agreed to play them did Notre Dame finally begin to belong.
In 1924 for instance, the Ku Klux Klan showed up at South Bend incensed by the prominence of the Catholic institution, The subsequent fight and rout of the Klan became known as “The Battle of South Bend” and many trace the nickname “The Fighting Irish” to that date.
That 1924 season the team led by the Four Horsemen and coached by Knute Rockne established Notre Dame once and for all as a great football team and annoyed the anti-Catholic groups immensely.
We forget how times have changed. Anti-Catholicism was rampant. “No Irish need apply” signs were still appearing.
In 1928 presidential candidate Al Smith was the subject of massive anti Catholic diatribes and suffered at the polls as a result. Not until 1960 did Americans accept that a Catholic candidate could also be president.
Gee may well have a streak of anti Catholicism in him still. USA Today reports that at a December 5, 2012 meeting with OSU’s Athletic Council, President Gee “joked” that Notre Dame was never asked to join the Big Ten conference because “those damn Catholics” can’t be trusted.
The recordings from the December meeting were only recently publicized by the Associated Press after the news organization obtained them using a public records request.
Notre Dame wasn’t the only university who received jabs from President Gee - Louisville and schools in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) were ribbed as well.
In the wake of the publicization of Gee’s comments, the OSU president released a statement through the Associated Press as well as his own Twitter account. OSU said the comments were inappropriate and that Gee will be undergoing a “remediation plan.”
In his statement through the AP, Gee said, "The comments I made were just plain wrong, and in no way do they reflect what the university stands for. They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate."
On Thursday evening, he tweeted from his @presidentgee account: "I am truly sorry for my comments—such attempts at humor do not reflect Ohio State values, nor my role as its president."
Referring to negotiations Gee had attempted with Notre Dame at the beginning of his OSU tenure nearly two decades ago, Gee said, "The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week," which was met by laughter from the audience that included athletics department members, professors and students.
"You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that," said Gee, a Mormon.
Though long courted by the Big Ten conference, of which OSU is a member, Notre Dame has continuously chosen to keep intact their independent football status. This past year the university moved all of its athletics, except for football, into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Gee said the ACC added Notre Dame at a time when it was feeling vulnerable. "Notre Dame wanted to have its cake and eat it, too," Gee said, according to the recording and a copy of the meeting's minutes.
The recordings showed that President Gee also went after the Rev. Ned Joyce, Notre Dame’s longtime chief financial officer who died in 2004.
Gee said, "Father Joyce was one of those people who ran the university for many, many years.”
In the wake of the recordings, Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said, "We find the remarks most regrettable, particularly regarding Father Joyce, who served Notre Dame and collegiate athletics so well and for so long.
Brown added that Gee had contacted Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins to offer an apology and that Jenkins accepted.
Later, the recordings went on to show that Gee began to question the academic integrity of schools in the SEC, and Louisville.
The top goal of Big Ten presidents is to "make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity," Gee said. "So you won't see us adding Louisville," a member of the Big East Conference that is also joining the ACC.
Gee soon after added that the Big Ten would not be adding the University of Kentucky, either.
Louisville spokesman Mark Hebert said the university accepted Gee's apology but planned to forward Gee information about the upward trajectory of its academic and athletics programs.