We've become big fans of the Maryland Diamondback, the student
paper of the University. It's amazing when you think about it, but the
Diamondback has really been the only paper in Maryland's market willing to take
on the behavior of the Maryland students. The Post has basically dismissed
the various things which have happened, and we can't recall the Sun taking a
strong stand, either. The Diamondback has been very consistent, and very
firm about it: what's happened first in Cole Field House, and now in Comcast, is
a very real problem and must be dealt with.
The funny part is that what seems to have focused attention at
Maryland is obscene cheers, specifically the "F--- you JJ" cheer at
the end of the Duke game, and some of the T-shirts which have popped up.
There are, apparently, three in particular: "F---
Duke," "F---- Duke and Saddam," and "Rape Duke."
The first one is just childish. The second one puts a
moral equivalency between Duke and Saddam. We'd be willing to bet that
medical research pioneered at Duke has saved at least one Maryland fan's life,
and probably lots more, so maybe they should be the ones to discuss this
comparison, not us. The last one is just kind of sick. Rape is not a
suitable joke for a T-shirt. There are more than a few women at Maryland -
just like any large campus unfortunately - who have been raped. Our guess
is that this T-shirt mostly works for the guys, and if they could imagine
themselves being raped by other men in the only way that men can rape men, the
T-shirt wouldn't seem quite as clever.
But we digress. The University of Maryland has been
embarrassed on national TV and criticized in the press for chanting the F word
when, basically, little kids and aunties are watching. But the profanity,
annoying though it is, is a red herring. The problem at Maryland is not cursing,
it's hooliganism. The T shirts and taunts are just the milder
manifestations of that.
In the Diamondback article, the suggestion is that things have
gotten worse in recent years. Now, the question is why? And the
answer, to us, is fairly clear.
There was a really healthy exchange during the Lefty
years. Duke fans reveled in his outlandishness, and he delighted in
tormenting his alma mater. But save for the Herman Veal episode, there was
never really any nastiness to it. And for those who don't know: Veal was
accused of sexual assault; Driesell was accused of trying to sweep it under the
rug and of pressuring the alleged victim to drop her charges, and Duke fans
threw condoms and panties at Veal.
This sparked the famous avuncular letter from Uncle Terry
Sanford, and Duke behavior was immediately improved.
This was over fifteen years ago, too, so pretty soon the
statute of limitations should kick in, and when Maryland fans say yeah, but,
well but nothing. It was almost twenty years ago. Shut up already.
In the Gary Williams era, Maryland has had a notable lack of
success in beating Duke. This has led to a lot of understandable
frustration in College Park, and we can definitely see why they don't like
Duke. Losing to someone over and over will do that, particularly when you
are pretty good yourself.
But here's where it gets a bit creepy, and where a good bit of
the problem originates: rather than saying, look, fans, they've outplayed
us, and we just have to do better, Gary Williams has made excuses for his team's
lack of success against Duke. Most notably, in the Final Four game, he
turned to the scorer's table and screamed, "how badly do you want Duke to
win this game!"
By the time he did this, the suggestion that Duke was screwing
Maryland, that there was in fact a conspiracy, had long since taken root.
It had its roots in Driesell's contention that the North Carolina schools were
sticking it to Maryland. The basic idea is echoed whenever a Maryland
coach says that of course they can't win the ACC Tournament, it's a North
But under Gary Williams, the pathology has grown a good bit
sicker. As the face of Maryland basketball, he has made excuses, cast
blame, and suggested dark forces are behind his failure. How could his
fans not pick up on this?
And of course, they have. So when Duke beats Maryland,
it's not that Duke is better or played better. It's that the Terps got
screwed. And what can you say to that?
Duke is as bad as Saddam.
When you toss in Gary's sideline rants, and the threats of
violence which permeate Maryland games, and students who believe this
conspiratorial clap-trap, you have the makings of a much more serious problem
than saying "fuck" on national television.
What it amounts to is this: Gary Williams' own sense of
inferiority, and suggestions of conspiracy, has fused with a virulent part
of the student body to create the conditions for a future catastrophe. The
precedents are there for anyone who cares to look:
- bottles thrown at Renee Boozer, leaving her with a
- a fight picked with the father and uncle of Nate James
- a riot which cost over a half-million dollars and left
nearby residents terrified to go outside to defend their property
- Wake fans being advised to get on the floor for their own
safety in case Maryland lost
- accounts of security forces leaving Duke fans unprotected
when a game ended
What this reminds one of, of course, are the Brownshirts of
the late 1920's and early 1930's Weimar Republic, a disorganized mob which
refined the use of violence to cow the public and the government.
We are not comparing Gary Williams to a Nazi, much less to
Hitler. For one thing, the Nazis used the Brownshirts and their violence
quite deliberately to advance an agenda. In Gary's case, he hasn't seemed
to mind their tactics - and keep in mind, while Duke is the focus, it's not just
happening to Duke - but we don't think for a minute that he has his minions
dream up nasty little plans for the hooligans. He just hasn't resisted
In fact, after the initial uproar over Mrs. Boozer's injuries
subsided, he went so far as to say people should "get off [the fan's]
backs. They're great fans."
We don't think he's a psychopathic nutcase. Gary
Williams is in many respects a gifted man, a guy who can spot talent a lot of
people overlook, and then take that talent and develop it and build solid teams
around those players. On some levels, he is a remarkable communicator.
At the same time, he's also highly defensive, seems to project
a sense of inferiority, and evidently worries about enemies and conspiracies.
He's not Hitler. He's Nixon. He even has a lot of
Nixon's stiff body language.
Don't get us wrong, we think it's high-time Maryland
acknowledged that there is a problem. But they're looking at a symptom,
not the real cause, and Gary Williams is just as responsible for this situation
as are the students, more so in some respects. He is the leader there, the
grownup supposedly, the one guy who can take a microphone, take some T-shirts,
and say, "look, take those off, they embarrass me, they embarrass the
University, they embarrass you, and that humiliates your parents. I want
you to come down here and give me that shirt and take this one instead. It
says Fear The Turtle. It's positive. It doesn't make us look like
morons. Come on down here - you son, yes right there. Come down here right
"And that nasty little cheer has to go. We don't
need it. Thank you, young lady, and here's a shirt for you.
"And the violence has to stop, and it has to stop right
now. Today. No more putting batteries in the newspapers, no more chunking
bottles at women, no more hot pennies at the other bench.
"This is a great University, and we've built a program
which demands respect. What has happened here is the opposite of respect,
and I'm here today to tell you that that part of our history is over. If
the cheers start up, if the T-shirts pop up on TV, then I'm taking my team to
the locker room and declaring a forfeit."
What do you think the odds are of him saying or doing anything
even remotely like this? Zip. Gary Williams knows that a) he doesn't
have the confidence in himself to pull it off, and b) he understands full well
that he is riding a tiger and that the tiger could (and at times does) turn on
him. So maybe he'll write a couple more letters to the editor, or tape a
video message for the scoreboard, and we'll all just wait for the inevitable
serious injury or death to occur. At that point, metaphorically
speaking, Gary will have his Len Bias, and all bets will be off.
It doesn't have to come to that, but unless and until Maryland
stands up to the thugs - and Gary has to be the one to do the standing up - the
potential is there. Unfortunately, he's Gary Williams (channeling Nixon), not
Gary Cooper, so High Noon will pass yet again, and we'll all wait for the punks
to ride back in town to taunt the sheriff and maybe hurt a few people.