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How Football Can Help Us Understand the Mike Pence Protests at Notre Dame

How the 10-year career of an NFL quarterback should inform our consumption of today’s Notre Dame graduation news

Jay Schroeder

Jay Schroeder had a 10 year NFL career, in which his teams won 61 games and lost 38 games he started. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Washington Redskins in 1988 after taking them to the championship game the prior year. He attempted 2,808 passes and completed 1,426 of them. He threw 114 touchdown passes and 108 interceptions.

You’re probably asking yourself: Why in the hell are we talking about Schroeder, a UCLA Bruins graduate on a Notre Dame site?

Good question!

Schroeder’s career stats are going to help me make a point about the significance of numbers.

Schroeder’s 3.8 percent interception rate is 105th best in NFL history. It’s one-tenth of one percent worse than Jim Kelly, Roger Staubach and Rick Mirer — and the same rate as Joe Theismann.

Would you say that Schroeder’s interceptions were significant to the story of his career? I don’t think any person writing about Schroeder’s NFL tenure would lead with his interceptions.

So now let’s use some of Schroeder’s numbers to talk about Notre Dame graduation. On Sunday, the university conferred 2,801 degrees and about 100 graduates walked out when Vice President Mike Pence gave his commencement address.

I have zero strong opinions about the appropriateness of this protest, just as I had zero judgment for the 30 graduates who skipped the 2009 Notre Dame graduation because President Barack Obama was the commencement speaker. (Gun to my head: Hey man, it’s free speech. You do you.)

I take issue with the media’s coverage of the graduation.

Imagine if the headline was “Interceptions doom Schroeder’s career.” Any person who understands math would be like, “Whoa, buddy! You’re putting waaay too much weight on those INTs!”

So my question to you all is: Why do we allow the media to overemphasize the actions of 30 people or 100 people out of nearly 3,000 individuals? And if we’re certain that 3.5 percent of a group doing one thing is significant enough to make a headline, then why didn’t the headlines read “Notre Dame students give Pence standing ovation before commencement speech”? (I don’t know if there were 100, but there were quite a few that stood. Again, I don’t have an opinion on the appropriateness of this action.)

I enjoyed Michael Bryan’s recent 18 Stripes article, “Counting Stats Are for Dummies.” In a roundabout way, he’s saying what I’m saying. Don’t just accept a number at face value. Put it in its appropriate context. Weight it. And then come up with better conclusions.

I know I’ve just done a very bad thing and mentioned politics on a sports blog. But let’s try and stick to the topic in the comments. If you want to take issue with my comparison between Schroeder and degrees, have at it. If you want to slag on Mike Pence — or praise him — please go somewhere else with your hot take.