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Burying Our Worst Selves

On hate in sports and how we address it

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I remember sitting across from Jim Oblinger and Larry Neilsen in a conference room with many others while we warned that NC State is a powder keg and something must be done before it explodes. This was during a weird, racially charged time around 2008-2010 where there was an appearance of a noose on campus, threatening graffiti in the Free Expression Tunnel and word of a potential KKK rally on campus. Those of us that participated in that meeting with the Chancellor felt that our school had not done enough to foster a safe space concerning those issues. NC State’s beauty is its wide diversity of people, interest and backgrounds that not only encompasses the wonderful tapestry that is North Carolina but the country and the world itself. To its credit, NC State did not immolate itself, but this kind of uproar could happen anywhere in the country. That is why what happened at Texas A&M affected me personally and I cringe to think of what could happen next.

Sports allow us to be expressive, build community and get enjoyment out of our attachment to teams/players/gambling lines/fantasy points. In that analysis, nothing makes us more passionate than having also infused our time and money into a program. It’s why even losing college programs have more passion than fans of struggling professional franchises… there’s a literal and figurative investment. Because of this we college sports fans have a sense of entitlement for expecting the best out of a program, and when it fails to meet expectations sometimes our worst selves come out.

My last year of teaching, a student, whose family have been NC State fans/boosters for generations spoke to me about their concern that Kevin Keatts may not get a fair shake from a small minority of the fanbase due to his race. I didn’t disagree but reminded myself that during Sidney Lowe’s tenure we avoided showing our worst selves for the most part. As the first African-American head coach of any revenue program at NC State, there was speculation that once we started losing, some folks base feelings would show themselves publicly. While I am 100% positive there were those who expressed hateful views SOMEWHERE, we did not have it pushed in the public eye as it has recently at A&M. It is one thing to get hyperbolic about the quality of a coach or team after a tough loss, it is another to attempt to cut at the core of who a person is and terrorize them psychologically. Had I received the letter Kevin Sumlin received personally, I would’ve laughed at the empty threat and ridiculous attempt to scar me with a bad word I’ve been called numerously…but for it to come to his house where his children could’ve read it, that’s disgusting and disturbing at the same time.

Twitter and social media haven't made this easier to address because keyboard warriors around the world willingly shine a light on their worst selves’ post-game. Whether it be directed towards the program you just beat or towards your own school after a loss, we see extreme ugliness emerge from fans of all schools. Some may be as damaging as some Baylor fans attempting to equivocate a rape scandal or as disappointing as the hate a kid personally receives for missing a kick, sports can bring out our worst selves. And nowadays there is also a culture of no remorse, no decency for what was said and the damage its caused those it was said to.

I said all this to say we have a long season ahead of us. We have many more tough games to come and a basketball season that is going to show some serious growing pains. One thing to note is that the general feeling after SC was seemingly one based more in resignation or disappointment than in vitriol. That’s one comfort most longtime State fans have is we are so used to disappointment we don’t give in to our worst selves as much…we’d rather shake our fist at the gods than write a personally harmful message toward a coach or player. Yet, just like any other team, we have fans that will do terrible things and we must have no fear or favor in calling them to the carpet for brandishing their worst selves while wearing our colors and insignia. Dave Doeren, Kevin Keatts have kids, they need this job, and while these jobs are not guaranteed because they are contingent upon success and results, State fans, sports fans must bury our worst selves and push that our cohorts do the same as well.