A big thanks should be given to Roy Williams and his student-athletes, and to a lesser extent Larry Fedora and his — their winning records have arguably done more for the health of UNC-Chapel Hill than any serious research or teaching ever could given today’s political climate.
Tar Heel pride gives this board a thrill in saying this, but as properly trained critical thinkers it is troubling as well. Athletics are constantly trotted as a peripheral concern of the university mission. Yet we doubt that many people would have come to campus to get a memorial Daily Tar Heel copy of our paper celebrating the Nobel Prize win of a researcher, or a lifetime teaching award of a gifted pedagogue. The serious question is why do college sports motivate public support of the University in a way unattainable by research, teaching or student thought?
We may as well admit it. For all the recent valorization of nerd culture, America is a society that needs and yet continuously hates nerds.
Richard Hofstadter had it right: Americans despise intellectual experts yet seem to have no problem exploiting their labor. Yet get a winning season through a winning score, and there will be no shortage of fans at TOPO willing to tell you how awesome you are.
There is no logical reason for this. Both athletic and intellectual ability are gifts made good by support and disciplined practice. Our university nurtures both. One gets national headlines and the other back page whispers. Why?