Off the Cuff with Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is a motivational speaker, former football player for the University of Notre Dame and inspiration for the movie Rudy. Ruettiger came to campus last Wednesday to speak and sign copies of his book Rudy: My Story, which was published this month. The Review sat down with Ruettiger to chat about life as a student-athlete and the importance of follow-through.

Matthew Benenson

What did you think of the movie, Rudy?

I loved it. The acting was great, the music was great. I thought they did a great job, especially with the message. The message came across real clear and that’s what was most important to me. Not what actually happened or didn’t, but the message.

What was that message?

It gave people hope that if they focused on what they wanted, were persistent and consistent that they could make it. We’re always in a discovery mode, you know? Can I do this or that? You push yourself to accomplish that, and then you finish, and you know that you can accomplish something bigger because of what you just did. You’re always on a constant journey to define your character and your attitude. When you have a dream, you need to have what I call balance, which is perspective and the ability to adjust, but if you’re clear on what you want, that can make all the difference. This message isn’t just about sports but about life. Football is a metaphor. Notre Dame was a canvas. Everybody can relate to the journey, though. You get hit, you get knocked down, you gotta get up. Whether it’s sports or not, if you can know what you want and figure out how to do it, in my mind that’s all you need. For me, the first time I went to Notre Dame, it made me feel like, “I belong here.” That became my challenge. Can I get my academics in order so I can do the athletics? Can I work hard enough to do the athletics?
Now, I’m not scoring touchdowns in my dream. It was about going out there, contributing and being part of something great. Some people say, “Ah, you didn’t do much at Notre Dame” and I [say] “Oh, but I did a lot,” ’cause I didn’t quit and I never live in regret and that’s huge for me.

So this message doesn’t just apply to athletics?

No, not at all. It’s about dreams, goals, clarity. We all have this energy inside of us and it shows us what we really want. Most people are afraid to do what they want because they think they’re not good enough, they’re not smart enough, they’re not going to make enough money, whatever. It’s not about smarts; it’s not about money. Eliminate all that. The tough part is balancing your passions with your needs. Hopefully you get to the point where your passion can support your needs, but you’ll never know unless you take a chance and go for it.

What do you think about the pressures being put on student-athletes today?

It’s only pressure if you put it on yourself. Being a student-athlete should be about gratitude, not self-entitlement, which becomes pressure. When you have an attitude of gratitude, you have nothing to lose. I always call them “goofy thoughts” when other people try to get into your head. Get rid of your goofy thoughts. You wouldn’t be where you are if you weren’t good enough or capable. Don’t second guess or doubt your abilities. In school, you have your social life, your economic well-being, your academics and then athletics — all these things going on. Learning to balance all that is so important. It can be hard, but that’s where people separate themselves. Those who want to work hard and have earned it and those who feel entitled to it. When you work hard and earn it, you find out more about yourself and about your character.

So should student-athletes get paid money to play?

First of all, the NCAA gotta change. Period. You can’t bring a kid from a poverty-stricken area and bring him into an affluent society and just say “succeed.” They don’t have the money to buy a hot dog, and yet you expect them to perform? Yes, they should be paid. They’re working eight hours a day for the university to make money off of them. Why not pay them? They have to buy clothes, they gotta buy food, they gotta put gas in their car. How is a kid going to get back home with no money? The school gives them their books, but they still have to survive. If you’re so interested in their education, then educate them! How come that kid is in football practice when he needs to [be in] biology class for example? He needs to take biology, and he’ll be at football practice when he’s done. That would be my attitude. They’re student athletes. If you want to treat them like employees, then you pay them. That’s how I would want to be treated.