Duke's Unbearable Whiteness

I’m proud to announce that one of my more popular articles at AltRight, “White Devils” (27 March 2011), has been reposted at the Huffington Post under the less euphonious title “The Racial Biases of Duke Hating” (23 March 2011).

Oh wait—HuffPo didn’t repost my article; it had it rewritten by a liberal journalist, Rob Kirkpatrick, who softened its edges. (I thank STDV for bringing this to my attention.)

To see what I mean, take Kirkpatrick’s opening paragraphs:

First, a disclosure: I'm a Duke Blue Devils fan. I didn't attend the university, and I've been told by someone from the South that I would have fit in better with the student body on the rival Chapel Hill campus than I would have with the one in Durham. (I think she meant that as a compliment, and as a lifelong state-school guy, I take it as such.) But I can't help it; I simply enjoy watching Mike Krzyzewski's team win year after year by playing disciplined, fundamentally strong basketball while avoiding the showboating and individual-over-team play, not to mention the NCAA violations, that often mar the college game.

And as a Duke fan, I've become quite familiar with Duke Hating, a favorite pastime of fans of pretty much every other college team in the country. I've heard all the reasons why we should hate Duke: Duke is to be hated for its success -- though, for some reason, we need not hate other winning programs like UCLA or North Carolina. Duke is to be hated because it's a private school -- though, for some reason, not other private schools like Syracuse or Wake Forest. Or the four-time national champions are to be hated because they're perpetually "overrated" and "get all the calls" -- something that has yet to be quantified, but which seems to stem from a fuzzy conspiracy involving the referees, the Selection Committee, Dick Vitale, and, I think, Oswald's ghost. (For a good piece on the history of Duke hating, see Mike Kline's column for Bleacher Report.)

Duke has been this generation's most successful men's college team, so haters come with the territory. But what's increasingly disconcerting is the racial element that often seems to be at the heart of antipathy toward Duke. Over the past two decades of Duke dominance, the haters have had one thing conspicuously in common: The slick-dishing Bobby Hurley? Hustling overachiever Steve Wojciechowski? Sharp shooter J.J. Reddick? Duke haters especially hated these guys. Yet you almost never heard the haters go after a Grant Hill or a Chris Carrawell or a Nolan Smith. It's been the white players at Duke who've usually drawn the most venom... especially from white fans.

Now read my opener:

There is no college basketball team more hated and reviled than the Duke University Blue Devils. Books have been written on the subject; websites are devoted to it. Simply mentioning the names "Christian Laettner," "Bobby Hurley," "J.J. Redick," or "Danny Ferry" in the wrong place evokes sneers, jokes about high shorts, claims by some that they could take each of these men in a fight, and crude accusations of homosexuality.

It's hard to imagine another college team generating multiple Top Ten Most Hated Players lists, or being trashed on the Gawker family of websites. Even the cloying and sleazy John Edwards was willing to announce publicly during his first presidential campaign, "I hate Duke Basketball."  

Duke can inspire love, too, of course, and a large fan base made up mostly of people who have no real connection to the school. (Up until I actually attended grad school at Duke, I was one of these, having been a quiet but sincere fan since watching Christian Laettner sink "The Shot" against Kentucky in the '92 NCAA regional finals.) ESPN's generous coverage of the Blue Devils speaks to these vicarious Dukies, but also to the millions who love to hate.   

For me, the source of Duke Hate has always been rather obvious ... and unmentionable.

Yes, it has a lot to do with the team's famed "Tobacco Road" rivalry with the formidable North Carolina Tar Heels, whose Chapel Hill stomping grounds is a mere 15-minute drive on 15-501 from Duke's faux-Gothic campus. While UNC is a genuinely Southern place (or at least used to be), Duke is an institution for transplants, a school mockingly known as the "University of New Jersey at Durham." And while Chapel Hill is full of wine-and-cheese liberals, Duke undergrads are imaged as an army of mini-Gordon Geckos and overachievers... a stereotype that's not altogether inaccurate. In the only event of its kind I've ever heard of, after Duke lost the 1999 Championship Game to Connecticut, tens of thousands of Carolina fans poured out onto Chapel Hill's Franklin St. to celebrate and get drunk. This rivalry is intense, to be sure, but Duke Hate is much bigger.

Certainly, a lot of Duke Hate derives from Coach Mike Krzyzewski's success, his three National Titles and winning percentage over .750. Whenever Duke loses a regular season game on the road, more often than not, the opposing fans flood the court as they'd just won a title. But resentment alone can't explain the intensity of Duke Hate. Few people truly loathed UNC's legendary coach Dean Smith, whose exploits equal Krzyzewski's.    

A lot of Duke Hate, no doubt, comes from a certain "preppiness" associated with its players... a quality that was put into stark relief in the '92 Championship Game, when clean-cut Duke went up again Michigan's "Fab Five" freshman, who had pioneered the hip-hop look of bald heads, baggy shorts, black sneakers and socks, and street-ball style.  Laettner would latter describe them as "real loosy-goosy," which they were.

But this "preppiness" charge has alwats seemed to me like a euphemism for what really bothers people about the Blue Devils -- during Coach K's tenure, his teams have been majority white, and with some notable exceptions like Grant Hill and Johnny Dawkins, Duke's most beloved/hated players have been Euro-Americans. People love to hate the Dukies because they stand as a flagrant violation of the trajectory of college and professional basketball over the past 30 years. Duke is white, they play white, and they win.

The two articles are strikingly similar in tone and rhetoric.

Now, I’m not making plagiarism accusations. I don’t believe in the concept of “idea theft,” at least in the context of journalism (on some level, we are all second-hand dealers in ideas.) And Kirkpatrick develops these ideas on his own (though, in my opinion, in an inferior fashion); he also adds some anecdotes from the past year that support the general thesis.

That said, when I googled “Whiteness” + “Duke Basketball” today, "White Devils" is the first and third listings on the front page. “White” + “Duke Basketball” puts my article second and fifth.  Sure, Kirkpatrick could have come up with these ideas on his own… But it’s highly likely that he would encounter my article while doing even cursory research; and quite frankly, it’s dishonest of him not to link to it. I guess that’s life, when you’re among The Damned.

Steve Sailer has had similar experiences reading the editorial page of the New York Times:

One of the eerier feelings for me is to start reading a New York Times op-ed and realize partway through that the columnist is engaging in an argument with me, even though I'm not named. That happens several times per year with David Brooks's NYT columns. (I've been told on trustworthy authority that he is a regular reader, so I'm not just being paranoid here.)

A moderate amount of his stuff seems to be either echoing or arguing with me, (The last time Brooks mentioned my name in the NYT back in 2004, he got a lot of grief from the commissars about it.)

Without the Secret Decoder Ring, it's often hard to figure out what Brooks is talking about. … [H]is September 2007 column on "The Waning of IQ" … makes no sense at all except under the presumption that NYT subscribers are regular iSteve readers who are almost persuaded by my work. …

My impression is that Brooks finds my work highly persuasive, but also highly troubling, both from an ideological and career perspective. So, he sometimes seems to be groping around for some way to refute me, but all without mentioning my name. Thus you end up with weird columns that are structured like this:

1.    The conventional wisdom is [something that only iSteve readers would dare imagine].

2. But, the latest research actually shows that this [utter heresy] isn't quite the sure thing everybody [i.e., my readers, not NYT subscribers] assume, and the reality is [pretty much what politically correct people everywhere assumed all along it was].

As I mentioned, Kirkpatrick adds some interesting details to the mix, including a couple that make one believe that Duke Basketball is, most definitely, Stuff Black People Don’t Like. (Indeed, White basketball players might fall into this category.):

The day after last year's classic championship game between Duke and Butler, ESPN's Rob Parker and Skip Bayless spoke about the unusual number of white players in the game, which boasted (gasp!) five white starters. The Hated vs. The Hoosiers had more than lived up to its billing in showcasing two teams playing tough, smart basketball in a closely fought battle that came down to the last shot as Duke squeaked out a 61-59 victory. It was widely acclaimed as one of the best title games of all time. The nation's First Fan, President Obama, was inspired to call both teams in their locker rooms to congratulate them. But in the context of this discussion of the game's "whiteness," Parker labeled this one-for-the-ages final as being one of the worst NCAA championships ever. Not content with that statement, he added that if Butler -- the mid-major team with two Academic All-Americans that had captured the hearts of every non-Duke fan along with at least one Duke fan in yours truly -- had won the game, they would have been the worst championship team ever.

His synopsis seemed a pretty clear code for racial preference: Parker didn't like how these white guys played the game.

In “White Devils,” I mentioned that in the early ‘90s, Duke’s clashes with UNLV and Michigan were almost civilizational: Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley battled “the Forces of Darkness,” as Will Blythe put it—two teams that were all Black, that featured players laden with NCAA-rules violations and suspect academic records, and that pioneered the angry, thuggish, baggy-shorts, shaved-head, street-ball style that has come to define the college and professional games.

As Paul Kersey notes in his retrospective on Michigan’s “Fab Five,” the NCAA’s and NBA’s collective decision to go “all in” on Black players has been a pyrrhic victory. In their time, the Fab Five, and other gangsta athletes, made college basketball “cool.”  Over the long term, the preponderance of tattooed and surly freaks on the court has made the professional game all but unwatchable for White fans. (The NFL has always benefited from the fact that its players wear helmets and face-masks.) The NBA was some 370 million dollars in the red in 2009-10 and has lost over a billion dollars in the past five years. In a desperate attempt to increase revenue, the league is now going after the Hispanic market, doing things like putting “los” in front of the team’s nicknames.

At any rate, Kirkpatrick notes that the in the early ‘90s, the players were well aware of—indeed, motivated by—the racial aspects of the Duke vs. UNLV and Duke vs. Michigan match-ups.

In his self-produced documentary for ESPN on his old "Fab Five" team at Michigan, Jalen Rose made a pointed statement about the team that drubbed his Wolverines by 20 points in the 1992 title game: "I hated Duke and I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn't recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms."

When later pressed to expand upon his comments, Rose explained, "Certain schools recruit a typical kind of player whether the world admits it or not. And Duke is one of those schools. They recruit black players from polished families, accomplished families. And that's fine. That's OK. But when you're an inner-city kid playing in a public school league, you know that certain schools aren't going to recruit you. That's one. And I'm OK with it. That's how I felt as an 18-year-old kid."

In a response published in the New York Times, former Duke and current NBA star Grant Hill effectively rebuked Rose's words: "In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only 'black players that were 'Uncle Toms,' Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families."

What interests me more than all this is the asymmetry one sees across college basketball: White college basketball fans who cheer on Black teams. Discomfort over this, in my view, is the origin of Duke Hate. Put simply, White fans hate and resent Duke because, deep down, they wish their team looked like the Blue Devils.

Whether I’m right about this or not, it is sad to report that there’s reason to believe the grand Laettner-Hurley-Ferry-Reddick-Wojo tradition might be coming to an end. Duke’s current freshman class is three-fourths Black, as is its 2012 recruiting class.

Could it be that in the wake of the Lacrosse case—or rather in the wake of the administration’s creation of various “anti-racism” initiatives in respond to a hoax—might someone have pressured Coach K to change the complexion of Duke Basketball? This is pure speculation, on my part, though it’d hardly be out of character for today’s academic establishment. Only time will tell.

And there’s always BYU!