Civil Rivalry or Un-Civil War? Carolina and Duke

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.

  • http://none Stu

    I’m left wondering….”so what?!”

    What is the point or conclusion of this ramble ?

  • Chad


    I have to agree on the coarsening within athletics. Point in case: the recent poisoning of the 130 year old oak trees at Toomers Corner in Auburn, by a seemingly lunatic AU fan, in the name of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. This is not at all what the rivalry is about, and it’s horrifying and saddening that things could come to such a pass.

  • Craig


    And um… Go Duke!!! :)

  • Clay Knick

    An observation: lots of Carolina fans/students grew up in ACC country. Lots of Duke fans/students did not. Those who grew up in ACC country usually pull for the ACC teams, those who did not pull for their own team and against the other(s).

  • Oscar

    Born in ’51, eh? Well, it appears that we are of the same age and, on this subject, of the same mind. Athletics has become more than just a contest, it has become a battle that has little or nothing to do with allegiance to a team. It has become an identification with a location, or an idea, or a tradition. Fans now identify with an image rather than pull for a team of players.

    In the same way I think that Christianity is suffering the same sickness of ignorance. Too few in the pews really KNOW what they believe…or WHY! Their allegiance to Christ goes only as far as the doors of the church building or the name of a denomination. And in the same way as in athletics some Christians (so called) go on to savage those who don’t believe as they do, preferring an “us versus them” agenda rather than “Christ in us, the hope of glory”.

  • Will

    I enjoy the fun of the Carolina-Duke rivalry, and pretending to hate Carolina (I am a Duke Div grad). But, I am one of the few who seemed to think it most appropriate that Duke and Carolina played for the ACC championship – I have missed it when that game didn’t actually meant something more than just bragging rights. I wish Duke had made a better game of it. My 3 years at Duke, Carolina barely made a show and it was all easy wins. They were fun, but on the whole boring games.

    Like you, I wish we could have a return to better sportsmanship.

  • Krissi

    This is why I love being a hockey fan. Canadians are so much nicer. I recently asked Steve Elliott if the NHL has the kind of controversies as other pro-sports. Almost before I could finish the question he replied with a firm, “No,” and then said, “Because they’re good Canadian boys.” Same thing for the fans–most hockey fans are still Canadian, despite the majority of teams being in the U.S. It’s nice to love a sport that has civil fans (most of the time, and always excluding when Pittsburgh plays Washington). Interestingly, whenever the fans aren’t civil, they’re almost always from the U.S.

    On another note, living in Kentucky has made me a big Kentucky fan. I watch Kentucky basketball because it’s Kentucky, not because it’s basketball (those these days I’m usually watching hockey games instead). I readily admit this fact. However, I don’t have a big loyalty to the SEC, so Kentucky’s rivalries don’t mean much to me. I’ll always be a PAC-10 girl. :)

  • graham veale

    Can you field an unrelated question from a mildly confused Ulsterman?

    After watching films like “The Social Network”, and far too many American TV melodramas, I’m a bit bewildered about who does and who doesn’t get into College in America.

    Just how much of an advantage do the rich have in their educations? Because sometimes it sounds like you guys have an aristocracy over there.


  • Richard

    I fondly remember watching Duke vs Penn in the 1978 tournament at a Duke frat house. I had no problem rooting for them. Things have changed.

    Then, Graham’s post really got me laughing. For some reason, his question seems on topic to me. I’ll figure that out later.

    Yes, there definitely is an aristocracy over here, but good luck at finding Americans who’ll admit it. The difference is that there is no poor aristocracy here. It isn’t based on titles, but on money. And the money appears to be winning.