The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday March 1st

Bill Friday and Athletics

As we mourn the passing of former UNC-system President William C. Friday, members of the University community should remember the immediacy and urgency of his legacy.

Nearly every tribute to the life of this remarkable man has noted his commitment to affordability, access and service as the ideal for public higher education, as well as his tireless efforts to mitigate the effects of athletic tribalism. The relationship between these concerns may not be immediately obvious, but ignoring them now may be especially dangerous.

When in the early 1960s he canceled the popular Dixie Classic basketball tournament because of the corruptions of athletic tribalism, sports fanatics from every tribe in the state wanted his head.

And those voices were just the louder counterparts to a much more dangerous chorus of nay-sayers who thought the University shouldn’t be the progressive force Friday believed that it could and should be.

Today, the ideals championed by Friday are once again under attack by those who believe that opportunity and commitment to a shared prosperity have no place in public higher education. When sports fans celebrated the resignation of UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp, they effectively insulted the commitments and sacrifices of all those who agreed with Friday that “people don’t want their lifetimes to be measured by how much their football team won or lost.”

They also became the unwitting dupes of a crabbed mindset that would erode the promise of opportunity and excellence many North Carolinians expect from their universities.

This confluence of destructive forces may have been what Friday had in mind when he told the Washington Post that recent events in Chapel Hill have put higher education in North Carolina “in a very dangerous situation.” And like Friday, many of those who stood with Thorp recognized that reining in the corruptions of athletic tribalism is not about cleaning up sports scandals. It is about rededication to higher education in a democratic society.

None of this is to suggest that you should not root for the Heels to beat the Pack.

But as you do, remember the Carolina Way is about decades of integrity, excellence and service to North Carolina — not a few wins and losses. Preserving that legacy may be the most important achievement that students can leave to their successors.

Stephen Leonard is an Associate professor of political science at UNC and a former Division I athlete. Contact him at

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