We all watched, with jaws gaping as first-year Duke basketball phenomenon Zion Williamson fell to the ground during the first moments of Wednesday night’s game. We all held our breath as we waited to hear what happened. We all stood there in disbelief as Williamson limped off the court.
We did not, however, all react the same way. Many of us Tar Heel fans cheered. Others just stood in silence, astonished, while others pointed and laughed. Some even went so far as to tweet, mocking and embarrassing Williamson.
This is not acceptable behavior. Being a Tar Heel basketball fan and exercising common decency are not mutually exclusive. Cheering your team to victory does not necessitate encouraging the harm and injury of your opponents. School rivalries can be fun and exciting and motivational, but they are not an excuse to behave amorally. As Tar Heels, we are better than this.
It is against our values as a school and community to condone such despicable behavior. Zion Williamson is an 18 year-old athlete whose promising future in professional basketball was jeopardized in a matter of seconds. Although Williamson is said to be stable and recovering from his knee injury, the impact and trauma of this experience undoubtedly lingers. And what’s worse, our response as a Tar Heel fandom was not a collective one of sympathy or compassion, but a disjointed mess of cheering, sneering and complicit silence.
Sports are built upon the virtues of respect, self discipline and integrity. Our behavior Wednesday did not reflect these values. Williamson’s bizarre injury is a potent reminder of college athletes’ vulnerability and their imbalanced relationship with the NCAA. Tickets for Wednesday’s game sold for upward of $2,000. Williamson’s name and talent influenced those prices. Duke is sponsored by Nike for presumably millions of dollars — UNC itself earns about $10 million a year from Nike. Williamson sees none of that, and yet, he bears the price for wearing the Nike shoe. We should remember these vulnerabilities the next time we comment or tweet about Williamson or any other college athlete. Perhaps it will encourage us to act differently.