Certainly one of the major trends in my life time, is the coarsening of the culture broadly speaking. We have TV shows that could never have made it on the air, movies that could never have made it in the theaters, and pornography all over the internet, which would long ago have been banned from the internet, had the internet begun in say, 1951 when I was born. Not only so but civil discourse on politics has degenerated into shock jocks and blow hards, who often know little about what they are talking about. And Arrogance and Ignorance is such a lethal and bad combination, frankly.
It is no surprise to me then that we see this coarsening and corrupting influence in college and professional sports as well. What I had hoped would never happen is that the rivalry between Carolina and Duke would participate in that sort of mean-spirited uncivil behavior. But alas, it has happened and continues to happen. I was watching ESPN briefly and Jay Wiliams was lamenting that his yard was about to be rolled by Carolina fans, who had already put up little Carolina blue flags in his yard, without his permission of course. There are a variety of lines that are now regularly crossed that should not be crossed.
First let me offer a disclaimer. I am not a neutral observer of the Carolina vs. Duke rivalry. I am a proud UNC grad, my father was a Carolina cheer leader long ago, and the older library at UNC is named after my great uncle— Louis Round Wilson. My connections with this oldest of state universities (no, Georgia, you did not have the first state college students, whenever you were chartered) goes way back.
At the same time, I am a Methodist minister, and I have actually taught at Duke Divinity school. I respect the Duke tradition, and I have even gone to Final Fours where I pulled for both Carolina and Duke (Indianapolis— either in 91 or 92, I forget). But what has happened to a civil rivalry is that it has come close to being an uncivil war in some cases. Let me illustrate.Back to that final four in Indianapolis. When I was growing up, we in N.C. were all ACC fans, and especially of our own teams. For example, when in 1974 N.C. State went undefeated and won the national championship, we were all cheering them on in N.C.— whether we were Wolfpack fans or not. We were proud of our conference. By contrast, when I went to the 1991 (or was it 92) Final Four, the Carolina fans all around me were cheering for Duke to win as well as Carolina, so we could have an all ACC finals. That would have been great. But the whole other quarter of the stadium, filled with Duke fans, throughout the Carolina vs. Kansas game could only cheer ‘Go to H, Carolina, Go to H….’ It was just sad and uncivil, and it tarnished a great rivalry, and it continues to do so.
And that brings me to a further point. Having lived in Lexington for a long time now, I have noticed something. Most Wildcat fans are not really hardcore basketball fans, they are simply partisans. And what I mean by that is, if Kentucky isn’t playing or isn’t in the tourney, most of them aren’t watching. They are not so much fans of the game, as partisans for ‘their team’. And I suspect this party spirit, if I can call it that, is precisely part of the problem. Do you love the beauty of college athletics, or do you just want to win baby win, and to heck with everything and everybody else? It’s a question worth asking. I am afraid that things have degenerated so much in our culture, that team spirit, has dissolved into pure partisanship— and hence civil rivalry becomes uncivil war. It’s not merely a shame. It’s bad sportsmanship.