2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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62 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY ANDREW MENTOCK W earing an orange, forward-fac- ing ball cap and turquoise tie- dye T-shirt, Braden Lenzy intro- duced himself in a video on the Notre Dame football Twitter account June 4. Despite his casual dress, his tone was somber and assertive, while still inviting. As he spoke, a framed photo of the Notre Dame logo was positioned on the wall behind his left shoulder, perhaps an unintended ode to the football program encouraging him to amplify his voice. The purpose of the 23-second clip was to highlight a letter the Fighting Irish wide receiver wrote titled Braden Lenzy: Dear America, which the team published on UND. com, the official website for Fighting Irish athletics. "I just wanted to take this time to address the issues going on in our country right now, voice my opinion as a black man and just help others understand the thoughts going through my head during these trying times," he said in the video. This letter marked one of two seminal moments in Lenzy's adult life where he's written about the injustices he's witnessed and experienced, and promoted his thoughts on a public platform. The first was an impassioned piece he wrote for The Player's Tribune in December 2017, describing the cyber-harassment and ill wishes he received from Fighting Irish fans — both young and old — when he ini- tially backed off his pledge to Notre Dame and flipped to Oregon (Lenzy later decom- mitted from the Ducks and signed with the Fighting Irish). Fans threatened his life, insulted his par- ents and how he was raised. One person even stated his hope that Lenzy's ACL would tear. "There were around 100 messages total," Lenzy wrote in the article. "It got to where I would cringe every time my phone buzzed." Yet, Lenzy didn't let the overtly negative Notre Dame zealots sway him from making the college decision that he decided was best for him. The more recent fundamental moment came about a week after he and millions watched the murder of George Floyd, a black man and father, by the knee of a Min- neapolis police officer. Lenzy is a mixed man who identifies as black and, like many black men and women, his parents felt the responsibility to sit him down at a young age and discuss the dangers and precautions to take when pulled over by a police officer. He also saw how the peaceful protest of former San Francisco 49ers quar- terback Colin Kaepernick was devalued by those unwilling to heed what kneeling during the national anthem actually championed. "We have come to a point in time where silence is no longer acceptable," Lenzy wrote. "The hashtags will no longer cut it. The police brutality that we have endured for my entire life must come to a stop. No one man or woman was created above the other, and it's time our nation reflects that. "White Americans must speak up and stand by our Black brothers and sisters be- fore it is too late. We need you to hear us. We need this nation to hear us. Hear our cries for justice. Hear me. Lend a listening ear. Stand with the Black community. Demand justice for the Black lives of this nation." From a young age, Lenzy's parents en- couraged him to speak his mind, respectfully question leadership and never accept the status quo without first investigating deeper. Even as an elementary student at St. Antho- ny's Catholic School in Tigard, Ore., Lenzy was willing to challenge his teachers on a lesson they taught, never accepting instruc- tion just because it appeared in a book. His affinity for sharing his perspective with his educators is still present today. Via a one-on-one Zoom session with his Ad- vanced Writing and Rhetoric Tutorial profes- sor Damian Zurro this spring, the teacher- pupil roles were temporarily reversed, while Lenzy shared with Zurro his responses to a writing prompt on the words famed black so- ciologist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his collec- tion of essays titled The Souls of Black Folk. In particular, Lenzy identified with Du Bois' groundbreaking meditations on "The Color Line," and how, as he moves through the world as a black man, others make as- sumptions about him that — even when ac- curate — are harmful. "He spoke eloquently about how, just be- cause he's seen a certain way, that doesn't capture the complex fullness of who he is as a whole person," Zurro said. "People often would just see him as a black man and, at Notre Dame, questions arise, like, 'What sport do you play?' "Because oftentimes, black students at Notre Dame are automatically kind of shunted into the category of student-athletes." Lenzy has never been confined to the ex- pectations outsiders have for him, and his value stretches far beyond the entertainment he provides on the gridiron at Notre Dame Stadium in the fall. Pop Culture Connoisseur In his father's eyes, one of Lenzy's gifts is his ability to articulate his thoughts — ones that others share but are often unable to ex- press in a concise and easy-to-digest manner. This trait may have developed from an unexpected place, at least for those unfamil- iar with the television and filmmaking style of anime, a Japanese genre of animation. Popular examples of anime include televi- sion series such as "Dragon Ball Z," "One Piece" and "Naruto." "Anime is character development, story- telling, and has very unique and purposeful points of view," said Melvin Lenzy, Braden's father. "Many people from the outside look at anime and think it's just cartoons, but it's much deeper than that." Lenzy's love for anime sparked around the age of 10 when his family moved from their home in Oregon to Taiwan for Melvin's job with Nike. At first, Braden resented the move but now looks back on the experiences of adjusting to a new culture as one of the most formative times in his life. He attended Taipei American School, where he partici- pated in a wide range of sports, but Lenzy soon recognized that athletic accomplish- ments weren't going to earn him the respect of his new classmates. "With sports, you could go out there and be really good at kickball and no one cares, but you come up to school with the best Ba- kugan [a Japanese anime series and strategic card game] and you're a legend," Lenzy said. Today, Lenzy is a self-described nerd and connoisseur of pop culture, enjoying reality television, "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter," but still makes time to consume anime. He even credits an anime program with inspir- ing his own on-the-field maturation. The television series "Haikyu!!" chroni- Last year, Lenzy tied for fourth on the team in touchdowns (four) and ranked sixth in yards from scrimmage (454). PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS TAKING A STAND Wide receiver Braden Lenzy has never been confined to the expectations outsiders have for him

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