|Defending the mascot of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the leprechaun (Photo: University of Indiana)|
I strongly disagree with those who take issue with the Notre Dame leprechaun.
There is no comparison between the argument over whether to get rid of the Washington Redskins name which is clearly offensive to American Indians, and the symbol of the Fighting Irish rep which is beloved by millions of Irish Americans.
Rightly so in my opinion.
The leprechaun speaks to our very heart and roots. Although it was not officially adopted until 1965 it now and forever represents the Fighting Irish tradition in the same way the shamrock represents Ireland or the maple leaf Canada.
It is also representative of a deeper truth about the battle against racism and discrimination in America.
How quickly we forget how deep that anti-Irish, anti Catholic discrimination went.
The “No Irish need Apply” adverts were published within the lifetime of many still living.
The little Catholic school in remote Indiana played a huge role in asserting the right to be free of discrimination and showing that when it came to the playing fields of America the Irish were as good or better than most all else.
A 1929 Notre Dame publication spoke to the issue.
“The term 'Fighting Irish' has been applied to Notre Dame teams for years. It first attached itself years ago when the school, comparatively unknown, sent its athletic teams away to play in another city...At that time the title 'Fighting Irish' held no glory or prestige ...
"The years passed swiftly and the school began to take a place in the sports world ...'Fighting Irish' took on a new meaning. The unknown of a few years past has boldly taken a place among the leaders. The unkind appellation became symbolic of the struggle for supremacy of the field. ...The team, while given in irony, has become our heritage. ...So truly does it represent us that we unwilling to part with it ..."
There is a prouder version of this tale. In May 1924 thousands of members of the Ku Klux Klan descended on South Bend to hold a “Klavern” and attack the very home of Catholicism in America at Notre Dame as they saw it.
The Notre Dame students and priests assembled in their thousands. It was a time when one in three white men in Indiana were said to be Klan members.
The Notre Dame boys however hammered the living daylights out of them and drove them back home defeated and bruised. They never showed up again
So when you see the Leprechaun, who embodies that fighting spirit, remember he represents that link with a storied and glorious past and a battle against the evils of the Ku Klux Klan.
That is why, rightfully, so many Irish like me are proud of the name and the leprechaun and all that he represents.
We should all be too.