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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

College Football Already Has a National Champion


Here are just a few examples of an oxymoron (which, as I was taught in high school, is a phrase formed of seemingly contradictory words): "mild-mannered reporter," "airline food," "humble opinion" and "Internet privacy. "

Too often in our high-pressured collegiate athletics, the term "student-athlete" has constituted an oxymoron. But that, quite frankly, is not the case with the University of Notre Dame's football team, currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 in coaches' and sportswriters' polls, which plays the University of Alabama on Monday in what amounts to a national championship game. Why? Because Notre Dame football players — at 97 percent — have the highest graduation rate of any school in the nation playing at the most competitive level.

That means Notre Dame's graduation rate is higher than the rates of students who play football for great colleges such as Stanford or Duke or Northwestern or Michigan or the Naval Academy or West Point. And, yes, for Alabama and California, too.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for tolerating my obvious lack of objectivity in these matters. Shortly after the cooling of our planet, in one of life's great unearned blessings, I was able to attend for four years and to graduate from Notre Dame. I cherish my alma mater and acknowledge, reluctantly of course, that like all human institutions, Notre Dame is not perfect. But I am genuinely proud that the Notre Dame team is the first ever in American sports history to be No. 1 in both graduation rates and the national polls.

To its credit, Notre Dame does not isolate students who play football in a separate athletic dormitory, as so many schools do.

Athletes live in dormitories with and take the same classes alongside students who are non-athletes.

This year's team has two Academic All-Americans: center Mike Golic Jr. — who, having earned his undergraduate degree in film, television and theater (with a 3.428 GPA), is taking graduate courses — and linebacker Manti Te'o, the nation's outstanding defensive player, who is a devout Mormon of Samoan roots from Hawaii and, with a 3.324 GPA, will graduate from the College of Arts and Letters with a degree in design.

The Rev. John I. Jenkins of the Holy Cross fathers, Notre Dame's president, was asked by the Chronicle of Higher Education, "If you had your choice, what would you pick — a national title without a perfect graduation rate or no national title and a 100 percent graduation rate?"

Father Jenkins gave the answer most college presidents probably would have offered, but knowing the man, I am confident he meant it: "Well, that's an easy one. It's got to be the second. What gets me out of bed — what motivates us — is being a place where we can do both of those things. If you don't have the satisfaction that you're helping kids live a full life, it just wouldn't be worth it. No number of championships would be worth it. "

The interview, which was conducted before the final regular season game, concluded by asking Jenkins for his prediction of the final score. His answer: "You know, this may be anathema to our coach, but whether we win or lose, it will be a great season, and each one of these kids will get a degree. And that's something to celebrate. "


To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
Sir; anyone who can graduate from university without a burden of debt so large that it crushes them into slavery is a champion... My oldest daughter just graduated Magna Cum Laude, and remarkably, mostly on her own by working, and very little of borrowing... Incredibly, she blames me for this condition, but honestly I feel much more responsible for her worse condition... When in group projects I always said: Do the whole project, do not rely on the team to carry you, and then turn in two papers, your own, complete, and the group's, with your contribution...
I have been a rugged individualist all of my life, and if you are an individualist, you need to be rugged... A better skill, the skill that really leads to sustained success in my opinion is team building... As I progressed through life I learned certain tricks to make true team projects possible, but the most important to understand is that there are no individuals, no person not standing on the shoulders of others, upholding and carrying forth their culture, which is knowledge...Long ago with my family engaged in counceling I think I stated best my dilema as a parent... I have been given this wonderful person, perfect, and able to love and relate to others, capable of joy and happiness, and out of the need to inure her to the cruelty of the world, and make certain she has the skills essential to her survival, that I have to turn this fine example of humanity into an essshole...
Thank God for mothers... Everything I touched about her character I mucked up, and it breaks my heart that she would thank me, and give me credit... Parents don't have power over their children, but influence; and some time you have to wager your whole relationship to push children past their fears in the hope of something better beyond... We are becoming a hard and heartless people, and this is my world, the world I was made for by the hard, cold U.P. and parents who survived youth in the Great Depression...
America is becoming the lands we exploited, and the people are sullen and mean, as those who know they have been had- always are...I think it was Ti Cobb who said when it was all over that he wished he had made more friends... I was an ironworker... People fall off of ironwork and are incredibly surprised if anyone drops by to say hello... It is not that they are unthought of, but some lives, most lives now days demand such constant attention to detail that people fear to blink, or look away...
My father who had the respect of many said once that he had only assocates and competitors, and that he was good by default... Better men with less care for the details of their lives that make all jobs possible simply fell by the wayside and those who could be there, prepared, sober, and determined - succeeded... But, not everyone is my father, or is like him...
That level of specific focus, day after day through a work life is impossible for many, and it takes away from the relationship aspect of any job...It did not cost my father much because he was that good...Where ironworkers refine their relationships begun on the job is at the bar, and that bar is the loss of marriages to many, sometimes their jobs, and at times, their lives...I could not have kept my marriage without due attention impossible from the bar, but I paid a price for skipping all that male bonding...And still I marveled at the friendship and cooperation of those who did bond...It made their jobs something my job seldom was: Fun!
If those big boys at Notre Dame are learning something invaluable it is on the field of play... Life is a team sport... Some rare individuals can do well playing an individual game; but they are the exception and not the rule...I will never agree that there are no great men; but only great commitees...Those people who know naturally how to form relationships and help to steer them to a desired destination are the most happy, and so, the most successful... It is my great failure to have helped creat a stand alone individual though she is a take charge, intelligent, and get it done individual... It is hard to tell some one much better educated than myself that they need to learn one more thing which in one sense is the unlearning of what made her successful education possible... Now she needs to have fun with those she works with, and form long lasting relationships... It will make all the difference in the world, because education is an individual experience, but a job is the social expression of knowledge, as is culture...

I am rootin for the Irish, and surprise, surprise... They beat Michigan and Moo Yoo... But if they beat Alabama it will only be by the grace of God, Amen...That is what I say when they beat state... We never had a chance... They had God on their team...
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Jan 4, 2013 5:39 AM
Mr. Shields,
Your comment on the News Hour this evening, "And the fact is that the American people, who want all the benefits and want the free lunch, and don't want a single gray hair on the beautiful head of Social Security or Medicare touched, and basically don't want to pay for it...." displays a total lack of either understanding or empathy toward the folks that have spent their productive years contributing to these programs. Sipping too much of David Brooks' Kool Aide, I suspect. Before your comment I didn't give a hoot who won the national championship. Now I hope Alabama rams that pill up ND so far the moon will never shine on it!
Comment: #2
Posted by: George Siegner
Fri Jan 4, 2013 7:24 PM
In the debt discussion nobody goes back to the reason we got in debt in the first place. When Clinton left office there was a surplus. Bush II became President and started two wars and lowered taxes at the same time. If your a student of history you know that's a recipe for disaster. And along with Clinton eliminating the Glass Spegial Banking Act and Bush II not monitoring the banks, the bank and the financial community promptly stole 12 Trillion dollars and that's how we got in debt. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH SPENDING ON ENTITLEMENTS!
Yet to this day there is not a single banker in jail for stealing 12 Trillion dollars, but we the people who were told we had to bail them out are now being told we going to take a big hit while those who stole the money walk away with everything they stole.
And of course with the obscene military budget we need to keep getting into all those unnecessary wars to justify it.
Screw the people one more time.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Peter Blechman
Fri Jan 4, 2013 8:50 PM
Re: Peter Blechman, and George S... Good points to both...My Father paid into Social Security all of his working life, and that was money out of his income, and out of mine...I contributed to social security all of my working life and it was income out of my pocket and the pockets of my children...If all the time I was contributing, wages were being driven down, so contributions were being driven down, and people were more and more working for cash on hand because they could not afford to pay taxes of any sort, but living absolutely hand to mouth, then this trend government was behind should have been attended to, and why was it not???...
If the government could see this trend, and it was obvious even in tax revenues, they should have acted against it, and they did not... Instead of governing in regard to the facts, they governed guided by principals that considered high profits good, and high wages bad... What makes sense to every shop keeper, or small businessman at a micro level is not necessarily good from the point of view of a whole society... People when free to act, do not always act in their best interest pursuing a limited view of good...We have government to see beyond the immediate good...
All the time that work forces were being reduced along with wages, those wages were supporting more and more not working... It is possible, since the price of goods were reduced along with the amount of labor in them... Two people can support ten... But if those two are working overseas, working for slave wages, they will not support people here, or there, and are just like our under the table economy...
Now; the necessity to support ones aged or injured has always faced mankind... In a person's productive life they had to make enough to support themselves in old age and in youth, and this was always done generationally... A productive adult would simply support the young and the old, and the youth in his turn would return the support he recieved to the old and young...If a third party had been there feeding off the excess at every turn, denying to youth the support of their families, and the old the support of their families and giving to workers only their necessities, then society would have died out, and look closely, because our society is dying, and you are a witness to it...
Social security deductions went up... Out of a two week check, my wife's was reduced by 40 dollars... She will be fine, but what if she had made commitments based upon her take home, and was living on a budget??? At the same time, my pension plan must go forward bleeding cash after it has lost perhaps two thirds of the value in the great crash... Was it all just a balloon???
What choice did working people have but to bet on capitalism, and what choice has the government but to bankroll capitalism when it breaks...But why is it breaking??? High profits lead to depression, and why??? It is possible to suck too much out of any people and any society just as it is possible to over farm the land...Interest, which social security has never paid, even at the rate of savings bonds would have it flush with money... Instead of paying interest, our government borrowed from social security, using it to hide the debt they refused to pay off with taxes... Why???
Not demanding taxes out of the only class that could afford to pay taxes has left social security and the government itself in a precarious situation, and it is not because government could not see the trends or react to them, but because the government took care of the moment and decided to cross that bridge later... The government was governed by the principals, which are ideals it had regarding economy without any good study of the subject, or even the application of common sense...
Government is living on credit, and so is everyone else...Government is paying interest to the very slass it could have taxed, and did not, so figure that... The whole world is living on credit without sufficient income to pay their way... Who is on the recieving end???
My money has gained interest, and perhaps two thirds of principal has been lost out of the inability of people to pay their interest or principal...For every loser, and by loser, I mean the whole world evidently, there have been a few winners who taken their profits free and clear, and then been in position to buy everything lost cheaply...In most respects, the working world has been living hand to mouth with its wages set by the necessity to stay alive... All excess has been taken by a single class, and again, on the principal that this was good for society...When vital social services are denied, when the care of children is left to television, teachers, or police, when the old must face the future with fear instead of happiness, then your society is drained, exhausted, and dying... We could survive without the rich... They do nothing but rob everyone... Excuse me...
Some people enjoy the wealth of their own creation, but most rich would be hard pressed to show any positive good they do for society... These people are living on nothing but the labor of others, and will never have enough... The more they maximise profits the more a handful of workers must support vast numbers in poverty...It is possible for a society to be destroyed by faulty principals as well as foreign enemies, and faulty principals leave a society weak and indefensible...
So what if Mr. Shields is blind to reality... If he were not blind he could not enjoy the company of the characters who drive our political system...Not one of them can make government work, and not one of them is directly responsible, and it is the sharing of responsibility that makes government such a teratoma...Most of these pundits are blind to all but superficialities, and most of the are morally defunct... Mr. Shields is a good guy, and when I reach the first step of perfection I will be angry if he has not reached the second... Judging by his competition, there is no doubt about Mr. Shields' moral qualities, which he has, and they only malign...
Comment: #4
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jan 5, 2013 7:13 AM
Re: Peter Blechman. How would you like an Al-Qaeda controlled Pakistan to start thinking about lobbing atomic bombs all over the planet? Think a little more about why the U.S. has a military strategy.

True, we screwed up in Viet Nam, in Iraq, and in many other places, and it may well be that some of the past actions of the U.S. have played a mighty part in getting the planet to the desperate situation we find ourselves in, but to advocate blanket withdrawal from all military fronts is just plain comfy stupid.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Masako
Sat Jan 5, 2013 5:41 PM
Re: Masako...Sir... Pax Americanna has not meant peace or americanism... We have exported our capital where it then required defense, but not our rights which would have offered us defense... We have attacked Islam on specius moral grounds, when the principals we allow to guide us lead us to inevitable conflict with Islam which cannot be defeated...
Think of it Masako, we are challenging a spiritual system of meanings with a system of thought made of material, perhaps even scientific values... There is no more a meeting of these systems which exist as though on different planes possible than a meeting between East, and West... I am not saying confict was unavoidable since understanding is so impossible...But that is the worst sort of confict to be engaged in, because understanding of your enemy is essential to victory...There was always a better argument for segragation of our peoples and economies, but our economy will not allow it...Nor will the culture of our religion permit peace with theirs, as theirs will allow with us, on their terms...
Just as you illustrate, the more contact we have with these people the stronger they become... Our style of war is without victory and expensive...They turn our technology to the service of Islam, and we take nothing from them that makes us stronger... They grow contemptuous of us with every barrel of oil we buy from them, and with every one of them we educate to our standards... We cannot continue our style of warfare for the cost of war, and we lack the understanding and respect that might lead to peace...
Need I point out to you the cruelty and pointlessness of attacking a whole people to rid ourselves of their tyrants?... For every enemy we slay, another ten enemies are made... That is simply no place where force and violence will serve us well... Force and violence are commonplace with them, and they are used to diffusing it, negotiating around it, and getting beyond it... With us it is the first choice of action, and with them it is the last, the choice complete frustration leads to... And mind you; I make no claim to understanding them... I have read enough about them to grasp how different we are from them in spite of obvious similarities... The similarities are superficial, and the differences run to the heart of matters...
Comment: #6
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Jan 6, 2013 12:34 PM
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