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Duke Hating - An Essay

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As you guys may remember, we've followed the history of Duke bashing (or hating, take your pick) for several years.  But lately, things have really gotten bizarre.  And before we go any further, we should draw a distinction between what fans and bloggers have to say, and, on the other hand,  professional journalists.  Bloggers to an extent might be forgiven, as they are amateurs and not bound by journalistic ethics (and in many cases blissfully oblivious).  But the performance of the media at times, particularly in light of a recent incident during the tournament, has been disturbing, and several reporters have contacted us to express their concern and their hope that we would take this up. Wish granted.

Part I. Where It All Began

To a large extent, what now gets called Duke hating started at Maryland and was spread by Gary Williams, who in various ways insinuated that Duke gets all the breaks.  In the 2001 Final Four, when Duke came back against Maryland, he famously yelled at a courtside official, "how badly do you want Duke to win this game?"

It was striking, and telling, that Maryland reacted more aggressively to the televised cursing (of J.J. Redick) than they did to the violent assault on Mrs. Boozer.

It gradually dawned on Duke fans that the ugliness coming out of College Park was unusually intense.  Emotions have always run high for Duke-UNC, but the intensity of feelings in College Park grew malignant, with two infamous incidents underscoring what became a dangerous situation:  1) Carlos Boozer's mother getting beaned by a bottle and suffering a concussion, and 2) the nationally televised taunts of Maryland fans yelling "Fuck you J.J." as Redick calmly shot foul shots.  Less reported were sexual insults directed at his teenage sister.

It was striking, and telling, that Maryland reacted more aggressively to the televised cursing than they did to the violent assault on Mrs. Boozer. The responses by Williams over the years have been disappointing; rather than facing down the hooligans among Maryland's fans, he has instead either egged them on, as he did when he made provocative comments about a song which the university banned, or when he said he wished people would "get off" the students backs, saying "we've got great fans," or he has rather cravenly stepped out of the way: anything to avoid being booed in his own building, apparently.

His jihad against Duke and his perception of a favoritism towards Duke have had results which were likely beyond his wildest dreams. We'll take a look at different elements of it next.

Part  II. Generalized Hatred

In 1991, Duke was hugely popular after upsetting UNLV.  And it was an epic upset.  But in 1992, with Christian Laettner's "stomp" of Aminu Timberlake (we've said it before, but it bears repeating:  if a 6-11 guy plants his foot in your stomach and you get up laughing and clapping, it's not much of a stomp), which, remember, closely followed UConn's Rod Sellers pounding Laettner's head onto the Meadowlands floor, Duke started getting some heavy criticism from the media and, of course, from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. And no discussion of Laetter in this context would be complete without mentioning the rumors that he was gay and that he and teammate Brian Davis had an intimate relationship.

But even so, Grant Hill's elegance kept Duke on most people's good side, and the mid-90's collapse following Coach K's back surgery actually prompted a small amount of sympathy (although not much).

In the late '90s, antipathy towards Duke coalesced around Steve Wojciechowski, who played with a surpassing intensity despite his limited athleticism.  One national columnist responded to e-mails by telling people he just couldn't stand Wojo and thought he shouldn't be a candidate for any postseason honors (he said it in a harsher way than that).

Starting around 2000, "Duke hating" moved from an ACC thing to the media at large (we'll return to the media shortly) and also with a new level of intensity to the Internet, where bulletin boards and blogs began to push the limits of acceptable criticism and debate.

Just as Laettner's supposed sexual orientation plays a role in how the perception of Duke has evolved, so too does race.  

From the early days of "Krychoski" and "Ratface", attacks on Duke steadily grew uglier.  While a jealous Ken Burgess referred to Shane Battier as "Shane Krzyzewski,"  in the online world, Battier and his teammates became the focus of much nastier stuff.  When Duke lost in the NCAA's in Chris Carrawell's final game, a local radio station printed a parody of the famous credit card ad which ended with: "seeing Chris Carrawell cry in his final game: priceless."

Online, it was far worse. Duke fans had long since gotten used to the taunts about Krzyzewski's surgery and the suggestion that he bailed on his team.  But online, anything went.  One poster fantasized about raping Krzyzewski's wife.  When Mrs. Boozer was assaulted, some Maryland fans applauded the act and hoped for a repeat.  This should be a reasonable rule of thumb:  rape (even fantasized rape)  and (encouraging) assault are lines that shouldn't be crossed.

Part III.  Race

Just as Laettner's supposed sexual orientation plays a role in how the perception of Duke has evolved, so too does race.  In a recent ESPN poll which asked readers to identify the top ten most hated players at Duke, eight of the top ten were white (Gerald Henderson was one of the two exceptions, which is almost certainly a response to the much-discussed incident with Tyler Hansbrough).

Among the bloggers, there are some reputable sites and people, and there are from time to time things published which are not nice to Duke, but which are often indisputably funny and which take Duke (and Duke fans) down a peg. You know, some of them make you wince even as you laugh.  And that's fine. It's good to have the mickey taken out you once in awhile.  It's not like Duke is perfect or anything.

But then there are some truly abhorrent sites.  There is the normal pedestrian crap, which we don't link to, and then there's stuff like the nakedly racist Nation Of Islam Sportsblog, which runs a serious risk of getting hit with a libel suit.  The standard insults are there, like calling Josh McRoberts a slow, whiny white guy.

But the writer has some fairly astonishing language. Check it out:

  • On Collins and Wojo: "Next to him on the bench, the cadaverous bodies of two of the three whiniest point guards to ever humiliate themselves by wearing and crying in a Duke uniform. Two anemic gargoyles, lapping up the grotesque offerings of The Prince of Darkness as if they were jackals on a corpse."
  • On Johnny Dawkins:  "A man that teamed with Satan before he truly revealed himself to the world. We give him the benefit of the doubt, that at the time, he didn't know. But when Lucifer unveiled his evil tidings and preparations, the lost son of Shabazz followed. He should have run. Or better yet, as close as he was to the undead cross bearer of Dukatory, he should have driven a stake through his heart."
  • Coach K is referred to throughout as "Coach KKK."
  • On Tyler Hansbrough: "...the poster boy of white basketball (the plodding, nonathletic, "hustling" and "working the boards" type of basketball that bores the original human), we feel regret that [Gerald Henderson's hard foul] was not done in the name of Shabazz. It was done in the name of Kryshivisikizoswki..."

He's got a unfortunate talent for insult, but raises it to a new level with the Coach KKK business.  This is truly new ground.   But his suggestion that Krzyzewski ordered Gerald Henderson to break Tyler Hansbrough's nose is a foolish mistake, and he should be held responsible for alleging this:

"The evil spirit is guilty of once again sacrificing a young Negro soldier for his and his lurid legions entertainment and delight...Rather than tarnish the pristine reputation of Duke basketball by using one of his entitled, trust funded, alabaster skinned walk-ons; coach KKK decided to use the Negro. Certainly the evilshness (sic) that makes up his support base in Dukatory would easily separate the dark faced Negro from the white face that is Duke basketball. Send the Negro with orders to maim. Then act like he did it on his own accord." (emphasis ours).

Duke, Coach K, or Henderson, should sue the pants off of this guy. One of many ironies here, of course, is that Henderson might be the most likely guy on the team to have a trust fund.

The truth may be as simple, and as disturbing, as this: bashing Duke is good for ESPN's ratings.

We should point out too that it's not clear that the site is officially sanctioned by the Nation of Islam. Then again, there's no evidence to suggest the NOI opposes it, either.

The NOI site pretty much nails down the lunatic fringe, but there's a lot of other stuff out there on YouTube and various sites, and that's fine.  No one should really care what people (read: fans)  say as long as it's not libelous.  But it's a different story when credentialed reporters do it.

Part IV - The Media

However, the willingness of ESPN (among others) to fan the flames is pretty hard to take - and grossly unfair.  It's gotten to the point where every call at the end of a close Duke game is highlighted and questioned.

Last year it was the FSU (the conference later ruled the refs blew it), and B.C. games.  This year, it was Clemson.

But as far as we could tell, ESPN never got to a central truth of the Clemson situation:  one of the officials is responsible for setting the game clock, not the scorekeeper.  ESPN allowed this misconception to linger, which was just wrong and terribly unfair to the scorekeeper, who, as fate would have it, is a UNC graduate (for those of you not around here, Duke and UNC ties cross like this all the time).   The perception that Duke manipulated the clock was allowed to stand on the sports network of record.

But it's not fair, and what's more, ESPN is pretty inconsistent about it.  When a similar clock situation occurred at Virginia Tech, it was a blip.  When Greg Oden threw a guy out of bounds, it was all but ignored, at least in comparison to, say, Christian Laettner's "stomp."  When Georgetown's Jeff Green abandoned his pivot foot before he hit the winning shot against Vandy, there was some discussion, but not what it would have been had he played for Duke.

The truth may be as simple, and as disturbing, as this: bashing Duke is good for ESPN's ratings.

Still, it's hard to understand how ESPN can allow Stuart Scott to openly display his bias towards Duke.  It gets tiresome to say the least to hear him promote UNC and constantly denigrate Duke.

ESPN also employs Bomani Jones, who could moonlight at the Nation Of Islam blog with statements like this:  "without question, I’d say that Duke is a white supremacist institution."

In fairness to Jones, he goes on to say that every college is a white supremacist institution, including traditionally black colleges.  Al Featherston had some words for Jones as well when Jones called Christian Laettner's "stomp" "one of the most vile things ever done on a basketball court,” terming it

But still, in some respects the most startling reaction from the professional side of the aisle came in Wake Forest's Lawrence Joel Coliseum recently, when the score for the Duke-VCU game was announced: there was an outburst of cheering in the media, which reportedly was heard beyond the confines of the press room.  

"unforgivable."

To us, it doesn't stack up with Ron Artest's charge into the stands to punch a spectator, or even with Chris Paul's cheap shot to Julius Hodge's testicles or most of Bill Laimbeer's career.  Certainly John Chaney's ordering his goon to hurt another player would be far, far worse, and some of Bob Knight's excesses have to rate too.

But to Bomani, Laettner's act is "unforgivable."

Another great example of this sort of thing happened in 2001, in the title game, when, about two minutes in, CBS's Billy Packer said something to the effect of "Duke's getting all the calls."

Two minutes in?  What the hell was that? Well, that was patently unfair is what it was.  But what can you do?

One of the worst for this sort of naked bias is Gregg Doyel, who has just gone way around the bend when it comes to Duke hating.  The general theory is that Doyel got hacked off when Coach K refused to cooperate with his unauthorized biography and asked former players and associates to also decline. Dave Glenn of the ACC Area Sports Journal said this:

"Subjects often decline to participate in unauthorized biographies, but Krzyzewski went a step further, actively discouraging the project. Doyel once told a colleague that he had been making do by interviewing former Blue Devils such as Kenny Dennard, Jay Bilas and Antonio Lang - but that sources stopped returning calls. One can only wonder if the author ever learned the reason: Krzyzewski had another one of his designated pit-bull guardians send a letter to former players and coaches, asking them not to do interviews for the book."

Doyel learned why just about everyone declined to help. This is what we said about it recently, which we came across here (and thanks for the link!):

We didn't understand [Krzyzewski's -- and his player's -- refusal to cooperate] at the time, but in retrospect, he must have had a pretty good idea about Doyel's character. Listen to the audio and ask yourself how this sort of questioning would go over in a bar.

We understand - and appreciate - aggressive questioning, and Coach K shouldn't be immune from it.  But in a recent teleconference, Doyel went from being aggressive to simply belligerent and rude.  He has publicly abandoned any pretense at neutrality or professionalism when it comes to Duke.  But at least he's honest and open about hating Coach K.  A number of his colleagues in the media share his sentiments, but not as nakedly.  Well, mostly, anyway.

Part V - Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum, 3/15/07

In some respects the most startling reaction from the professional side of the aisle came in Wake Forest's Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum recently, when the score for the Duke-VCU game was announced: there was an outburst of cheering in the media, which reportedly was heard beyond the confines of the press room.

J.P. Giglio of the N&O thinks we're making too much of this, and he was there and we weren't.  However, Ken Tysiac of the Charlotte Observer, Barry Jacobs, who was blogging for WRAL, and other reporters who contacted us upset about what they perceived as a breach of professional ethics strongly disagree with Giglio.

We know that one prominent local columnist, when asked by e-mail about the situation in Joel, said he wasn't surprised that it happened and that it wasn't the first time, either.

Giglio argues that the only egregious offender was a cameraman in a VCU sweatshirt.  Virtually everyone agrees that his behavior crossed a line. The other reporters who contacted us did so, they told us, out of a sense of anger that their profession was demeaned by cheering in the pressbox. They all mentioned the VCU guy as well.

And of course Giglio is correct;  not everyone with a press pass participated.  But that anyone did at all is a major blow to whatever remains of

Kryzewski, the self-made son of immigrants,  has become the face of Duke, the "elitist" university.  Somehow it gets overlooked, and he just gets tossed in the mix as another elitist.  Yet his comments upon losing to VCU reiterate his roots, and the nature of Duke's program:  sometimes, he said, you have to get your butt kicked to understand what it takes to win.

journalistic ethics.

And it's not as if the N&O is a bastion of purity in this regard:  the day after UNC won the national title in 1993, we talked to someone who worked in the newsroom who told us that the newsroom erupted when UNC nailed down the title.  It might be, as Giglio suggests about the VCU game, that excitement was natural.  But that wasn't the impression we got from our contact, who was thoroughly disgusted with the behavior she witnessed.

One of the most interesting things about this particular situation is that, as we mentioned, various reporters wrote to us and passed on several tidbits about media bias.

Here are a few:

  • One reporter extended his hand to congratulate Dickie Baddour when the Tar Heels won the East region in Greensboro in 1998. Courtside - in front of the press table.
  • A reporter, after the Duke-VCU game, and in the press room at Joel: "Bye, bye, Duke!"
  • Once upon a time, a sports editor in this state frequently referring to K as "Coach Rat Face" in front of the reporters in his department.
  • Another local reporter, according to one of our sources, came perilously close to getting a technical for his courtside behavior.

If the reporters we have talked to are to be believed, what happened at Joel is a part of a pattern rather than an isolated incident.  And it's important to note that while several reporters were deeply angered by what they saw as a violation of journalistic ethics, others were unwilling to criticize their colleagues, and indeed, we understand that those who did comment negatively on the incident got some unpleasant e-mail from colleagues who didn't think they should have brought it up.

But as far as we're concerned, if members of the press inject themselves into a story, they're fair game, too, and shouldn't expect to be above criticism just because they control the keys (or keyboards) to the mainstream media. They can and should be held responsible, preferably by their more ethical colleagues.  The rest of us can certainly demand that they honor their ethos.

Part VI - Why Duke?

Good question, even if we did ask it ourselves.  There are some very powerful teams, year in and year out in college basketball. Around here, there's UNC; not too far away is Kentucky.  Bob Knight is a lightning rod, even if he has faded in his later years.  Kansas has succeeded under three coaches since the '80s.  UConn has been remarkable for years, Arizona too.  Michigan State is almost always powerful.  So why Duke?

Well, it is true Duke has outperformed even most of the teams on this august list.  And it is true that nothing in American life breeds contempt like success.  The Yankees, the Cowboys, and the Celtics know all about that.  So did UCLA back in the day (as good as Ben Howland is, he's as unlikely to replicate the Wizard of Westwood as anyone else is).

Part of it, no doubt, stems from the sense many have that Duke is just too much, that Coach K is everywhere, that the Cameron Crazies aren't as cute as they seem, that the Duke players aren't that great and haven't always lived up to expectations in the NBA.

And quite frankly, Duke could stand to throw a charm offensive at the press.

But there's another element we alluded to earlier, and there's not too many ways around this: antipathy towards Duke often coalesces around the successful white players.

Whether it's Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Chris Collins, Wojo, Chris Burgess, Taymon Domzalski, Mike Dunleavy, J.J. Redick, or Greg Paulus, being a successful white player at Duke calls forth a peculiar racial response that didn't happen at Stanford in their glory days under Mike Montgomery, nor at Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, or any other schools which tend to be perceived as elitist white-bread schools.

And Laettner isn't the only one to have his sexuality impugned, although he managed it brilliantly and often turned it against his critics who were no doubt mortified to get their asses kicked repeatedly by a guy they thought was a bugger.

It's long forgotten, but Tech's Tom Hammonds regularly called Danny Ferry "fairy."  The standard taunt against Bobby Hurley "Hur-lee! Hur-lee! always struck us as being more than just his name.  And J.J. Redick was taunted around the ACC for any number of things he supposedly was, but unique (thankfully) among Blue Devils, even his sisters were fair game.

Basketball inverts the American social structure which sees whites as the most powerful group and blacks as an oppressed minority.  In the hoops world, whites are a distinct minority, and subject to racial taunts which are accepted, but which would be quickly shouted down if they were reversed.

Anyone who has even played the slightest bit of competitive pickup ball knows the routine: you get called white boy on a regular basis, or goofy white boy or some similar variation thereof.  God forbid you multiply the abuse by wearing glasses.

No one complains about it; most just accept it as the way it is, and if you overcome it and get accepted, then, well, it's a good feeling.  White Guys Can't Jump - that movie really caught a lot of the racial back-and-forth in basketball.

But while basketball, perhaps sports in general, is the last pure meritocracy, it's one thing for the participants to have their rituals of acceptance.  For the rest of us, wallowing in stereotypes, saddling 17 and 18-year-old kids with racist baggage is just grossly unfair. And it's not just the pedestrian fans and the nutcases at the Nation of Islam site.

Recently columnist Jason  Whitlock said this: "[Krzyzewski] plucks a large percentage of his players from nuclear, stable families. He gives off the air that he turns his nose up at the rest of college basketball, the programs and the coaches who try to win championships while working with the poor and dysfunctional."

Well, okay, a lot of kids do come into college basketball poor and dysfunctional and with no paternal influence.  But has it really come to the point where recruiting kids from functional families is to be criticized?  And plucking is an interesting word choice. It's not like other coaches don't go after the same kids.

Interestingly,  the poll which accompanies his article asks people to vote for their favorite and least favorite Duke players: except for Shane Battier, every other player listed is white. Somehow, the poll managed to overlook Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Jason Williams, Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Chris Carrawell, Carlos Boozer, Billy King, Shelden Williams, and David Henderson.

There's no question that a lot of people see Duke as an elitist university largely attended by whites, a perception which grew worse after the lacrosse story broke last year, a perception which was aggressively encouraged by many faculty members.

Yet this overlooks the driving force behind Duke's success, which is Mike Krzyzewski's family story.  He's become a rich and successful man, and he at times seems to be everywhere - Duke, advertisements, the Olympic team - but he was never given a thing. He had to work for every bit of it.  He was fortunate to go to West Point, where he learned a lot of organizational principles and a lot of basketball from Bob Knight, but the coach at Duke is the son of immigrants who had to fight for everything they ever had.  Recently, he made a comment at a press conference about how "money is inherited, not success."

Kryzewski, the self-made son of immigrants,  has become the face of Duke, the elitist university.  Somehow it gets overlooked, and he just gets tossed in the mix as another elitist.  Yet his comments upon losing to VCU reiterate his roots, and the nature of Duke's program:  sometimes, he said, you have to get your butt kicked to understand what it takes to win.

Part VII - Finis

There's no pleasure in most of this, aside from seeing your favorite team win enough to be despised.  The bias from the media, the lies about Krzyzewski's back injury, the gay innuendo about Laettner, Davis and Ferry, the racism aimed at white teenagers who succeed in a sport dominated by blacks, the suggestions that somehow Duke gets an unfair advantage from the officials (an argument that quickly runs out of steam when you ask someone to back up any particular assertion) - all of this gets old and frustrating really fast.   Is it unfair? Of course it is.  Is there anything that can be done about it? Not much, unfortunately.

But one thing that can be done is pretty straightforward, although in the case of the Joel cheerleading, we failed (because ultimately we couldn't absolutely identify those who were celebrating, although we have an excellent idea of who they are):  when someone in the media reveals their bias for or dislike of Duke, when it's appropriate, call them on it.

It's one thing to criticize Duke for, say, how the Henderson incident was handled. People can reasonably disagree with how Duke handled it, and despite our considerable respect for Krzyzewski's talents and accomplishments, we're pretty sure that if you caught him away from the court and asked him, he could give you a long list of things he's screwed up.  He's not going to do it in a press conference, but who would?

In the case of a Gregg Doyel, the best advice is to just ignore him.  But when it comes to ESPN's excesses, when it comes to a columnist making a stupid argument, when members of the local media are publicly biased, call them on it.  Call their employer's call their advertisers (in the case of newspapers this is no idle threat, not with sites like Craigslist eating them alive and destroying their ad base), in short, make a stink about it.

There's nothing one can do about individual wacked-out fans, but when the media loses their sense of perspective, whether out of a rooting interest or because slagging Duke pumps up ratings, the only way we can deal with it is to express ourselves, frequently and forcefully.