Q&A with historian Taylor Branch
__UNC alumnus Taylor Branch won the Pulitzer Prize for his three-volume history of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. More recently, he has become a well-known critic of the NCAA and college sports.
Branch will be speaking at Sonja Haynes Stone Center at 7 p.m. tonight on the role of violence in protest and other areas of life._
Daily Tar Heel: Why did you choose to focus on violence?
Taylor Branch: I think quite frankly violence and its opposite, nonviolence, ought to be a university subject.
Our media, our movies, our television are permeated with violence, and yet I dare venture most of the people in the audience at Chapel Hill on Monday night will not have seen much violence firsthand.
We don’t often just think about the place of violence itself. It’s one of those rare things that’s arresting and fascinating but doesn’t get a whole lot of thought.
DTH: What lessons do you think the civil rights movement has for student activists today?
TB: The hallmark of the civil rights movement is that such a wide variety of people were really wrestling and in conflict over very fundamental issues.
I think the lesson is that when people commit themselves to struggle about very important things, and they think and they argue and they talk about it all the time, they really can engage other citizens to tackle very daunting problems.
DTH: The tuition protesters at UNC are involving a wide range of issues in their campaign. Do you think this strategy is advisable?
TB: I do think that, just as a lesson of history, how issues are framed and what issues you choose to try and draw support for is just as important as the tactics you select.
It’s hard to have a grab bag of issues that you have to take an advanced sociology class to see how they all might be related to one another.
DTH: With regards to the NCAA, what are the areas you see as most in need of reform?
TB: The one thing that most urgently needs reform is to give rights to the athletes, or more accurately, to recognize that the athletes do have rights, that they can’t be parted from the fruits of their labor without their consent or due process, even just as a voice in the structure of how the sports at universities are run. Athletes aren’t members of the NCAA, they have no vote.
I believe that when people think about it they will gradually wake up to that position and that’s where we have to start.
DTH: What is your opinion regarding the recent sanctions the NCAA has imposed on UNC?
TB: I think the whole premise of the NCAA is wrong as it applies to amateurism. If someone wants to pay an athlete for playing in college, I think that athlete should be applauded, not demonized. The whole definition of dirty athletes I don’t accept.
That’s not entirely what was involved in the UNC allegations as I understand it. There were allegations of academic fraud and cheating and that sort of thing, which really properly belong to the school, not really to the NCAA to penalize, but I do accept at least the premise of those.
I don’t even accept the premise of the other allegations against North Carolina.
DTH: The NCAA’s sanctions have recently been regarded as more severe. Do you agree?
TB: That’s a good question, yes, they’re making a lot more noise, and they’re having a lot of scandals, but 20 years ago the NCAA used to tell some universities they couldn’t be on television at all for the whole year, and 25 years ago they said your team can’t even play for a whole year. They would never dream of doing something like that now because of the amounts of money involved.
The NCAA is very insecure right now. It gets all its money from basketball, none from football. The football programs are thinking about running a national championship without the NCAA. It is imposing louder and noisier penalties with less financial burden than it ever did before, and it’s just a measure of their ineffectiveness.
They’re kind of like the Wizard of Oz.
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