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Column: We can hate Duke without being homophobic

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Duke first year guard Jared McCain (0) dribbles the ball during the Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 men’s basketball game against Duke in the Dean Smith Center. UNC won with a score of 84-93.

In the days leading up to the basketball game against Duke last Saturday, the entire UNC-Chapel Hill campus united by a shared hatred of Duke. I dreamed of rushing Franklin Street — yet when we did, the victory felt tainted. All day I’d seen posters and social media comments ridiculing Jared McCain, Duke’s first-year guard, about his painted nails with homophobic comments regarding his masculinity. 

I naively believed my peers, and I already agreed that men painting their fingernails did not inherently make them gay or any less of a man. On the contrary, I thought it was general consensus that a man taking care of his appearance through manicures, a skincare routine and using multiple shower products instead of a three-in-one product was simply hygienic.  

When celebrities like Bad Bunny and ASAP Rocky have confidently shown off their manicures on the global stage, I did not expect McCain's blue and white nails to be such a hot topic. 

I was relieved to see many UNC students coming to McCain’s defense, calling out one poster which read “Coach K would’ve never allowed this” — referring to McCain’s painted nails.  One commenter responded, “Painting your fingernails isn’t corny?”

These comments push harmful gender norms and made-up societal rules about what is considered masculine and feminine. These meaningless rules hurt everyone, regardless of gender identity. While our society slowly started to move away from some of these gender norms like the idea that women should only be stay-at-home wives, obviously other norms have stuck. 

But even though a man painting his nails does not make him gay, why is that the diss so many have chosen? Why would that be such an insult to McCain? Queer students at UNC-CH were forced to realize how quickly their peers would resort to homophobia when in need of a pointless insult. 

These are students from US News' fourth-best public university in the country, and the best they could come up with was, “You paint nails?? But you boy?! You gay?! Burn!” If anything, it is a testament to how boring and uncreative someone has to be that they can’t come up with anything better. 

McCain is a Division 1 college basketball player, was recently named ACC Rookie of the Week and has over two million followers on TikTok. One sign in a stadium of thousands making fun of his nails is not going to affect his career success, but it will expose your homophobia to your peers, professors and the internet. 

That’s not to say that one must reach a certain level of popularity before they should be protected from homophobia. If March comes, and we beat Duke again at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it won’t be because some disgruntled sophomore called McCain “zesty” in an Instagram comment. 

I’m sure McCain does not appreciate the harassment he’s been facing, but at the end of the day, he does not let it affect him. In an interview with Complex Magazine last year, McCain stated “I just kind of just laughed at it,” regarding the hate. 

For some, it seems they were simply waiting for any excuse to be homophobic, and our basketball rivalry with Duke just happened to appear at the perfect time. However, if you’re a true Duke hater, you don’t need to resort to lame and overused insults about a nineteen-year-old's finger nail polish.

When we play them again, I want to put on my Carolina blue and scream insults about Duke players on the TV like “McCain sucks! He deserves a foul for that! The refs suck!” without worrying if someone nearby will take that as permission to say something homophobic. 

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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