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David Sirota
David Sirota
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These Devils Wear Privilege


With the beginning of the ever-optimistic spring season, the television is delivering yet another thrilling college hoops clinic, meaning it's time for us to gulp down our annual swig of Haterade — specifically, the blue-tinted kind. Once again, Duke basketball is upon us, and analyzing the root cause of widespread Blue Devil enmity has now become a Kremlinology-like sub-specialty among the sports cognoscenti.

Some, like ESPN's Bill Simmons, suggest that Duke is loathed because it supposedly gets preferential treatment — i.e., better bracket placement — from NCAA officials. Columnist Paul Wachter goes further, asserting that Duke foes believe the team unduly "gets all the press and all the calls." Meanwhile, NBC's Mike Celizic proffers the mishmash hypothesis: "Haters think the Devils' fans are arrogant snots, that the coach is a pinch-faced biddy and that few of the players are NBA-bound."

Having grown up in Philadelphia during the city's championship-less dark ages, I've developed a particular expertise in (and appreciation for) such virulent sports resentment — and in the Great Duke Debate, I side with The Nation's Dave Zirin. Combine all the leading explanations, add in Duke's status as an upper-crust, ultra-expensive private school, and I subscribe to his theory that says our penchant for hating on the Blue Devils reflects America's larger, more complex relationship with privilege.

This makes sociopolitical sense. A country founded on anti-royalism and defined by anti-aristocrat political rhetoric will naturally profess disgust for, say, Ivy League presidential candidates and incumbent congressmen — just as it will loudly claim to despise Duke basketball (and Yankee baseball and Cowboy football and ... you get the point). In short, purporting to abhor inequality, advantage and dynasty has long been as red-bloodedly patriotic as loving mom, adoring apple pie, and, yes, booing teams like the Blue Devils — teams that seem to wear their privilege on their jerseys.

And yet, evidence suggests our righteous inveighing against privilege is depressingly shallow — and possibly fraudulent.

Note this recent New York Daily News report:

"When considering why Duke was conveniently placed on a fast track to (the Final Four by NCAA bracket makers), the power of the Blue Devils as a TV attraction must be factored into the equation," wrote the paper, adding that simply put, "Duke has a history of juicing TV ratings."

This cannot be explained away as a mere product of Duke's alumni fan base or the watch-em-because-we-hate-em crowd. Those die-hard audiences, however passionate, are too small to account for such inflated national viewership figures.

We can hence conclude that a large segment of basketball fans who say they detest Duke — and who may consciously believe they detest Duke — actually secretly or subconsciously adore it and its privilege.

Which, again, makes sociopolitical sense. As populist as America's political pablum is, and as much as our liberal and conservative protests perennially berate elites, we typically put one of those elites (Ivy League or otherwise) in the White House, almost always re-elect our money-privileged incumbents and even vote for those incumbents' progeny based exclusively on their dynastic surnames — just like we reward the Blue Devils (and Yankees and Cowboys) with higher TV ratings.

Of course, perhaps this moment will shift the paradigm — after all, sports, the economy and, well, everything are so deeply and grotesquely stratified these days that maybe a backlash is in the offing.

Maybe audiences finally become more interested in the NCAA's up-from-the-bootstraps underdogs. Maybe voters in the next election throw all the bums out of office. Maybe — just maybe — we start reconciling our contradictory impulses about privilege.

Then again, maybe this is just my March madness still talking in April. But hey, it's springtime — anything's possible, right?

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.



5 Comments | Post Comment
Basketball is a game. The public outcry against incumbants, especially Democrats, has NOTHING to do with "privilage. It is about usurpation of power and abusing their oath to uphold the Constitution. Next year, there will be basketball playoffs. Will there be a Republic of the united States or a dictatorship?
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Fri Apr 2, 2010 1:46 PM
Re: David Henricks
Yes, there will be a United States next year - a democratic republic of the United States - if the Republican Party will stop capitulating to the Tea Party wing.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Mark Shoenfelt
Fri Apr 2, 2010 3:01 PM
Many people, especially Republicans, treat politics like a game. The only usurpation of power and abusing the oath to uphold the Constitution from this president has been to continue the dictator-like and anti-Constitutional policies created under the Bush Administration. Where were all the cries from the David Henricks to uphold our Constitution and protect our Republic while Bush was stripping our rights with his illegal warrantless wiretapping program, systematically dismantling our Constitution line by line, and starting illegal wars? Oh yeah, they were coming from the progressives and liberals and were largely ignored or ridiculed by the same people feigning outrage at this president today.
Comment: #3
Posted by: A Smith
Sun Apr 4, 2010 6:26 AM
Re: A Smith We were here and largely being ignored by mainstream media and being ridiculed. "Bush started it so I'm going to continue doing it" attitudes are grade school. Stop whining and grow up. The anti-Constitution activities are STILL! WRONG! Now, that the Tea Party is getting national recognition, more people have wakened to the continuous destruction of this great country. Stop sulking that we didn't do enough, for you, in the past. Climb on board, now and help this country get back to basics.
Comment: #4
Posted by: David Henricks
Sun Apr 4, 2010 7:25 PM
The only whiners that need to grow up are the Tea Baggers, parading around with tea-bags hanging from their hats holding either laughable or outright racist signs while spitting on the disabled.
I never stated that it is OK for Obama to continue unconstitutional activities just because Bush started them (how typical – you people always read what you want to read instead of what was actually written or intentionally set up a straw-man argument to argue against instead of dealing with the facts), nor have I ever heard President Obama (you write it in quotes as if he is saying it) or any progressive/liberal say as much.
If you guys were serious about confronting the legitimate abuses of power, you would stick to the facts and not made up conspiracy theories. Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it is unconstitutional (ie. the Health Care bill). Disassociate yourselves from the Birthers, the racists, the gun nuts, and the general ignorant wing-nuts who think that President Obama is a socialist and a fascist at the same time! Maybe then people will start taking you seriously and “climb on board”.
Comment: #5
Posted by: A Smith
Sun Apr 11, 2010 9:07 AM
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