Notre Dame women, police officers meet in united front

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — The Notre Dame women's basketball players were joined by area law enforcement personnel prior to Sunday's 64-50 victory over Saint Joseph's in a show of support and solidarity to ease tensions from a public stand the Irish women took eight days earlier in support of the family of Eric Garner.

Officers from police departments in South Bend, Mishawaka, St. Joseph County and Notre Dame led Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and her staff onto the floor prior to the game to show fans of the team and others a united front. The staff, team and law enforcement personnel stood together in a moment of silence as Notre Dame remembered the three police officers — two in New York City and one in Tarpon Springs, Fla. — who died as the result of gunfire within a 48-hour span Saturday prior to the National Anthem.

"We were really excited to join with local law enforcement to show our support for them, for what they do for us and how much we appreciate what they do for us not only here on campus but in the community,'' McGraw said after Sunday's game. "We have a number of people who have ties to law enforcement and we wanted to make that clear. I think we said it last week but we really wanted to make it clear this week (that) we are so supportive of them.''

On Dec. 13, prior to their 70-50 victory over Michigan, Notre Dame's players wore T-shirts with the inscription "I Can't Breathe,'' the words Garner uttered as police officers applied pressure around his neck in bringing him down and holding him to the sidewalk while making an arrest. Garner later suffered a fatal heart attack after the incident in July.

Some of the team' fans were upset by the shirt and voiced their displeasure with letters to The Tribune and on various social media forums. One player even received photos of this year's lime green fan jersey burning. A group of Notre Dame athletic officials that included McGraw met last week with various FOP organizations to try to calm the waters and overcome any bad feelings.

Prior to Sunday's moment of silence, a handful of fans took their seats wearing the T-shirt reading "Breathe Easy, Don't Break the Law,'' which a Mishawaka police officer was selling at the South Bend uniform company he owns.

The moment of solidarity was well received by the crowd and McGraw believed the incident was in the rear-view mirror for her team.

"It was a great life experience,'' she said. "When you take a stand about something, you have to expect that not everyone is going to agree with you. It was good for them to have to go through that and to understand if you want to stand up for yourself that there are going to be people who are not in agreement, that everyone has a right to stand up for what they believe in, too. That's what is so great about America — everyone has freedom of speech. So today we wanted our fans to have an appreciation for local law enforcement, and I thought that went over really well."

Members of the Notre Dame Women's basketball team and area law enforcement personnel stand together during the national anthem prior to the the Fighting Irish women's basketball game Sunday December 21, 2014 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. Notre Dame beat St. Joseph 64-50. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)