Editorials

The politics of Duke basketball

It's become routine now, an annual rite of spring. When the nation becomes engrossed in the NCAA's hallowed basketball tournament, more commonly known as March Madness, we revisit a small, smug, aristocratic university nestled in the tall Carolina pines of Durham, N.C.

It's an uncomfortable process but with a simple label: the politics of Duke.

The latest topic: Uncle Tom.

The background summary goes like this: On Sunday night, ESPN aired a college basketball documentary called "Fab Five," which focused on the five, groundbreaking and trend-setting super freshmen who started for Michigan in the early 1990s. ESPN commentator Jalen Rose, a member of that Fab Five ensemble, blurted during one segment: "I hated Duke and I hated everything Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn't recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms."

Whoa, check the buzzwords, then follow the outcry.

Based on Rose's logic, a Duke syllogism would go something like this: (A.) Duke recruits black players who are Uncle Toms, (B.) David Henderson is a black player. Conclusion: "David Henderson is an Uncle Tom."

Henderson grew up in a poor, rural county in North Carolina and reached his lifelong dream of playing basketball for Duke in the mid-1980s.

Now who is foolish enough to tell David Henderson to his face that he's an Uncle Tom.

During March Madness of 2010, the hate escalated so much that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski vehemently defended his program, saying, "We've got great kids that go to school, they graduate. If we're going to be despised or hated by anybody because we go to school and we want to win, you know what? That's your problem. ..."

Duke is a powerful university, a great academic institution with one of the most idyllic campuses in the United States. This school undoubtedly has one of the five best medical centers in the world. This school is global.

All I know is that I am a North Carolina guy. But if Duke offered me a full scholarship for four years to play basketball, I would accept it. And those detractors could call me anything they wanted. They could use any words of denigration used by some black folk vs. other black folk: "Uncle Tom," "house negro," "knee-gro," "Stepin' Fetchit," "Oreo," whatever they want to call me. I wouldn't care. Which brings us to something else that's in play here: the IRS.

That means "IntraRacial Stereotyping," one of the most under-covered aspects of the black subculture by the general and national media. We don't have to rely upon the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi types or other hate clowns to stereotype us anymore, because we have some facets of the black community that do it for us without provocation - and incessantly.

As Washington Post sports columnist Jason Reid so eloquently wrote the other day: "In discussing the movie since its production, Rose explained his thinking has changed with maturity, but he seemed to hold firm to his flawed belief that the experiences of some African-Americans are 'more black' than those of others. The premise, misguided as it is, asserts that academic achievement, professional accomplishment and affluence somehow reduces or eliminates a person's 'blackness.'"

It's a question of authenticity. Many black people in this country believe that you are only "authentically black" if your roots are in the ghetto and you can't conjugate a verb on the side. Therefore, if you live an American dream kind of life - you know, go to a nice college, procure a good job and speak the King's English - then you suddenly lose your highly valued "black authenticity card." And the only way to regain it is to act like a fool. We're talking Mike Tyson-fool territory.

Yes, it sounds totally ridiculous and misguided, but it's real in that subculture that I mentioned earlier.

I guarantee you if Duke recruited some black players who were hard-core head-cases like a certain number of other major colleges annually do, there would be a sudden bulge in black Duke fans across the nation. However, because the majority of Duke's black players - a la Grant Hill, Seth Curry, Brian Davis, David Henderson, Shane Battier, Thomas Hill - act like they have some sense, it foments a form of warped resentment.

Strange but true. Some people say, "Well, these black guys act too goody-good." The message, simplistically: A black guy can't act like a good person to accumulate authenticity. He must be a Snoop Dogg or Lil Wayne or some other gangsta rapper to gain that oh, so important "street cred."

And there is the issue of the SQ: the "Sellout Quotient."

Many in the black community are quick to label others as "sellouts." Are you a sellout if you are a black person who squealed to the cops about another black person whom you witnessed commit a crime? Are you a sellout if you are a black male who marries a white female? Or a black female who dates a white male? Are you a sellout if you prefer Barry Manilow over Barry White?

So, are you a sellout if you are a black basketball player at Duke? And this is where Duke's basketball program could suffer in terms of future recruiting. Suppose you are an urban, black basketball player from, say, Chicago, with high academic achievement in grades and extra-curriculum activities and a 1,100 SAT score. But you face a quandary: You have always been a fan of Duke basketball. But in the wake of this "social enlightenment" from a couple of clowns from the "Fab Five," you ask yourself, "Would I be a sellout if I choose to play for Duke?"

You know that other schools in the Midwest, such as Marquette dating back to the days of coach Al McGuire, have a long history of accepting black players from urban areas. What would you do as a player? What would you say as a black parent? The answer should be Duke if that's your passion.

Also, as the hip-hop crowd would say, don't hate but congratulate.

Better yet, especially if you are a black parent of an academically inclined star basketball player: Appreciate.

Contact Clay, sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service, at gclay@mctinfoservices.com.

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