"Nobody knows anything about themselves, 'Cause they're all worried about everybody else"
-Jack Johnson, Wasting Time
No line can better sum up an article written on Thursday for The New Republic. A Duke graduate, Seyward Darby, asserts that "there is a nasty strain of bigotry emanating" from anti-Duke fans because of the repeated references to their players being gay. Ms. Darby adds a few concessions, but with all the conviction of someone who begins a sentence with, "No offense, but..."
To help make Ms. Darby's case, the famous picture of a sign reading, "JJ is Redickulous" next to a Maryland fan holding a smaller sign that read, "-ly gay" is used, but she brackets her arguments with passages from Will Blythe's book about the Carolina-Duke rivalry, which suggests that she's aiming full on at Tar Heel fans for gay bashing.
To strengthen her case she points to Wikipedia entries being tweaked to suggest homosexuality and YouTube comments. Carolina fans are routinely criticized for being the "old, wine and cheese" crowd, and yet now we're launching a massive online movement to promote the homosexuality of Duke players? As for using YouTube comments as a barometer of a fan base, that's no different than judging everyone on Wall Street by the actions of Bernie Madoff, or judging young African-American entertainers on the actions of Chris Brown. It's not accurate and borderline irresponsible.
Ms. Darby identifies several usernames that have ties to Carolina, but neglects to do so when pointing out that there's a YouTube video called "Tyler Hansbrough is Faggy". Nor does she point out that Roy Williams, Dean Smith's, and Tyler Hansbrough's Wikipedia entries are also the focus of frequent vandalism. Recently, Coach Williams's entry was asserting, "He is a gay man who has sexual relations with his players."
Much of what is going on is juvenile, crude and unfortunate, but that's a far cry from bigotry. Duke fans themselves are not immune to throwing the gay barb. When referee Dick Paparo would officiate games in Cameron Indoor, if he made a call the fans didn't agree with, he would be hit with chants of "You Suck, Dick!" Is this just clever word play or homophobic? I would argue it's immature, clever wordplay. When former NBA player John Amaechi announced he was gay, it was a Duke player, Shavlik Randolph, who had this to say, "As long as you don't bring your gayness on me I'm fine. As far as business-wise, I'm sure I could play with him. But I think it would create a little awkwardness in the locker room." Which is more damning, YouTube comments or your student body and a player making these remarks?
The Cameron Crazies are not above treading on the line of decency. When a former Maryland player was alleged to have sexually abused a fellow student, fans threw panties and jeered him. Is making a mockery of sexual assault acceptable and observing that Greg Paulus has been dunked on repeatedly in his career, resulting in several crotches in his face, so far removed?
When fellow TNR writer, Jason Zengerle, responded to Ms. Darby's article he points to the bigger issue:
The homophobic Duke haters aren't necessarily taunting Duke players as whiny wimps; they're just taunting them just as they would their friends. Let me explain: the presence of so many white players on Duke's team creates the somewhat unusual dynamic of white fans taunting white athletes. As a result, this white-on-white shit-talking frequently takes the form of the shit-talking that goes on between the white taunters and their white friends--which, if you've recently spent much time with a certain class of white guys between the ages of 15 and 40, you know is a pretty homophobic form of shit-talking.
While it may seem that Duke is the target, it has nothing to do with the name on the chest, it's the color of the skin. These insults were not hurled at Grant Hill or Gerald Henderson, just as Kyle Singler would never be forced to endure monkey noises as some African-American high school players recently did in California. Christian Laettner never had bananas hurled at him like Patrick Ewing. Greg Paulus's intelligence has never been questioned, unlike JR Reid, who was the focus of "JR can't read" chants, by the Cameron Crazies. These are examples of true bigotry amongst basketball fans, a category which the majority of the remarks Ms. Darby references do not.
I'm not defending these "homophobic" remarks, but rather suggesting they're a cultural problem, not a problem in a rival fan base. In the vernaculars of many young men, "gay" is used as a synonym for lame for example, "Man, he's so gay when he flops." and "fag" often gets used in place of other crude words such as bitch or pussy. Their usage is immature and may not be socially acceptable in most circles, but rarely are tied to hatred or dislike of homosexuals. As it relates to Ms. Darby's point, Duke players and fans are just as guilty and to refuse to acknowledge that while using such a powerful word as bigotry (particularly in the South)is inexcusable by both Ms. Darby and The New Republic.