Calling Audibles Part XX: White Out

“If we say that we have no sin,
we deceive ourselves,
and the truth is not in us”

~1 John 1:8

Living a lie is a well-worn habit for human kind.   We human beings tend to avoid hard truths especially when they might mean we have to change.  The tenacity of our denial tends to increase the more there is to lose.

I will confess my own shortcoming in the face of all of this football mess here at UNC—anger.

There have been several angry moments during this situation for me.  Many have told me that my anger is justified.  And I know many, too, who are angry right along with me.  Even righteous anger, however, is not from whence I want to speak.

Anger, in and of itself, is not a problem.  It is an emotion that can give us some helpful information and lead us to needed change.  At the same time anger can become an affliction, a toxic emotion that can diminish our lives if it has too much power.  If we give in too much to anger it can distort our vision instead of leading us to life giving change.

Since the Taylor Branch, Bill Friday panel on February 28 at UNC I have struggled anew to find a place that is not angry from which to write.

For days I have prayed, talked, and reflected on the panel.  Even while I have attempted to do some writing about this event, I have resisted posting on my blog until now because I sought a more generous space than anger gave me.

With God’s help and with the wisdom of a good friend, Emmett Gill, I have gotten to a place from which to write that is not simply about anger.  I have gotten there not because the causes and conditions that gave rise to my anger have changed, but because I feel God’s generosity in the Divine call in all of our lives to speak truth.  Emmett suggested that I start with my struggle with anger.  Because of that I can see that within the framework of God’s call to tell the truth my anger can be what prods for me to take the risk and speak again, instead of diminishing the opportunity in all of this for new life, new wisdom.

Yes, I am angry.  And I also care.  And I write from a place of love and respect for many good people involved in the football family at UNC—and from a firm belief that the world can be a better place if we find the courage to speak the truth.   It is love and faith then, not simply anger that takes the white of an empty page and fills it in with the testimony my experience.

My writing here is my own personal resistance to the excessive use of WHITE OUT that characterizes the dominant narrative in the world of athletics in Chapel Hill these days.  

White Out is, of course, the handy dandy stuff you can buy at Staples that literally replaces your ugly mistakes with a lovely white veneer that is ready and waiting for you to rewrite history in a way that feels better to you.  Whiting Out is literally the erasure of a narrative to be replaced with another.

And it just so happens that in this particular situation in Chapel Hill, the White Out of rewriting history also involves the Whiting Out habits of white mentalities.  This Whiting Out is the veneer that the mentalities of white privilege, paternalism, and exclusion create.  Whiting Out is the hushing of truth that comes from the margins in favor of the norms and narratives of a privileged Whited-Out worldview.

Since it’s basketball season and the Tar Heels are a number one seed, lots of people in the Tar Heel world really don’t want to hear about anything but Carolina blue.  But those powdered blue lenses can deceive even the most well-meaning of us to over look the White Out, and see blue skies instead of the gray areas that truth may lead us into.

If you weren’t there at the Taylor Branch panel you missed a telling example of how this University is attempting to deal with what happened with the football program.  From where I sat, the event embodied the deep crisis of conscience that has so many of us in its grip right now.  We all know that something is very wrong about what happened at UNC with the NCAA and the football program during these last two years.   And people of good faith and good intention want to understand and do better.   Many want to make changes and live into brighter days.  The problem is that there is no official expression of an institutional will to hear and include the diverse voices of those who were most intimately affected by what happened.

The demographic of the panel itself embodies this lack of official institutional will. Three aging white male academics, even with keen insights and stellar experience and expertise, do not an adequate panel on the problems of big time college athletics make.  While I appreciate the perspective of each of these accomplished gentlemen, especially the courageous work of Taylor Branch, the true story of what happened at UNC cannot be told without players, coaches, and other involved administrators (like Holden Thorp) at the table.

Maybe Holden Thorp was in the audience, but I didn’t see him anywhere.  And I was disappointed not to see him since he was one of the main power brokers in this situation.   I was saddened to look up on that stage and see a completely white panel discussing the apparent problems of a phenomenon in our culture that is largely composed of people of color.  And it hurt again to hear another official conversation of which so little corresponds with what my family and I and the players we love experienced.  I don’t understand why an institution of higher learning that boasts a free exchange of ideas cannot have a more inclusive conversation on these issues?

For integrity to be robust it much be procedural and not simply rhetorical in any institution.  UNC has compromised its integrity through its own exclusionary and demeaning procedures ironically set in motion to protect the integrity of the institution.  When abuses of power and denial of rights are ignored while rhetoric about the Carolina Way is supposed to make us all feel like the integrity of this place is in tact, the White Out is in full force.  What integrity has been preserved when members of this community are simply sacrificed as collateral damage to protect the institution?

The White Out wasn’t just at work in the panel’s racial make-up.  Rhetoric from Dr. Bill Friday blaming the football program, the boosters, and the players for threatening the academic integrity of UNC was chilling in its obliviousness.  I do not attribute any ill will to Dr. Friday or the faculty who support his viewpoint, but the story they are telling is not reflective of the complicated reality of what actually happened at UNC.

For instance, when my husband, Coach John Shoop, asked a question about how UNC could have better advocated for the players who were involved in the investigation, he received a startlingly confused response from Dr. Friday.   Dr. Friday explained that he was not aware of any problems in the way the young men were treated by UNC during the investigation and he wasn’t clear on what the question was.  When John rose again to clarify that players had been told not to get attorneys and that they had no advocates in the process, Dr. Friday had no response.  Taylor Branch attempted a reply from a more global and anti-NCAA perspective, but with an obviously limited knowledge about what transpired at UNC during the investigation.

There is a growing realization by more and more people that there is an institutional will to White Out major chapters of the story of the last two years of football.   A few faculty members have approached John and me, and we have been able to engage in constructive conversations.  People tell us over and over that they did not realize all the layers of what was happening.  Players who did nothing wrong were punished.  They were guilty until proven innocent.  Coaches were denied information about what was really going on and were denied opportunities to advocate for players.  And, of course, in the end, the coaches who could speak to some of the most disturbing realities of these last two years were fired.

The Whited Out reality is replaced with a narrative that says UNC is “moving on” and the problems have been solved now that the community is rid of the troublemakers.   John and I appreciate the many people who have wanted to talk and learn more.  We have learned more from them, too.  These conversations are a blessed coloring in of a more vivid picture of what happened.

Until white privilege is dealt with in a fearless way on an institutional level there will be more Whiting Out than coloring in.  And the destructive and hurtful mentalities of whiteness will persist.  And the resulting caricatures of young black men and the football program as interlopers, free-loaders, and trouble makers are also going to continue to find traction in this community.

Until power is shared and the table of conversation is expanded, the false dichotomies between academic integrity and athletic excellence are going to persistently block the strong growth of diverse and transformative communities here.

Until the secrecy and problematic modes of leadership that fueled the way UNC dealt with the NCAA investigation are truly revealed and examined out in the open, the same habits will persist even if new faces and names are put into positions of power.

Individuals do not reform cultures, inclusive communities do.

What could have been a model and revolutionary approach to dealing with the oppressive and destructive patterns in Big Time College Sports instead continues to unfold as an all too familiar story.  People with too much to lose don’t often seek the clarity that colors bring.  The Whited Out, smaller world works for them.  And the rest of us are left believing there will come a day when a Whited Out world gives way to our true colors.



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13 responses to “Calling Audibles Part XX: White Out”

  1. Beverly says:

    Marcia, you express so perfectly what I see as well. I appreciate your being a “voice crying in the wilderness” for all of us. You are not alone.

  2. David Bohner says:

    Marcia, Thanks for your succinct summary of some of the issues which have been swept under the rug, some for many years. I salute John, your family and you for standing tall, and living and sharing your faith and truths with your many friends and supporters. As time marches on I hope you will continue to reach out for help and support.

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, David. Your affirmation and support help us a great, great deal. For old habits of mind and oppressive structures to change we need a gathering chorus of voices from many parts of our community. I appreciate your attentiveness to it all and your vocal support and encouragement.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  3. Alicia says:

    Hi Marcia, thank you for your eloquent and care-ful wrestling wih your anger. We all benefit from your refusal to let things be.

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Alicia. It helps to have your supportive voice added to the conversation. You are right, not letting things be that need to change can be a positive, life-giving result of anger’s agitating force.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  4. Chris says:

    Thank you for this blog. I was just telling my wife yesterday that there is something about “race” in this episode that makes me uncomfortable. I still can’t put my finger on it but it just does not feel right.

  5. Janet Beatty says:

    Good blog, Marcia. It seems as if UNC is a microcosm of what we face throughout this country. The current mentality among the political candidates reeks of White Out and racism. My guess is that as we move forward toward November, that ugliness is going to get more and more obvious. It deeply saddens me to see how connected much of this muckraking is to “Christianity” and the “church.” Even though it isn’t MY church (Presbyterian USA) it bleeds on us all. Keep up the voice, however focused on UNC, because we all need to keep speaking (and seeking) truth. Thank you!

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Janet. You are so right. Sports and what happened at UNC are a window into larger, deeper human and cultural questions. It’s not “just a game”, it’s the way we are together in community, the way we treat and regard others and ourselves. And you are right, too, that the political climate unveils these same tendencies in human beings and the communities we form to avoid hard truths. It seems like we are in a time of exposure though, whether people like it or not! You keep up your voice, too! Thank you for reading and for commenting.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  6. Your criticism of the narrow Feb. 28 panel is well taken, but was it a step forward to show up for a panel at all?

    You are certainly correct that the most essential issue is the rights of college athletes, which is largely buried under a blanket of silence and intimidation. Still, I think the education needed for basic change in college sports is slowly developing across the lines that divide stakeholders.

    As a commuting professor at UNC this semester, I have invited open discussion with students, faculty, and fellow alums. My next office hours are next Wednesday March 21 from 9-11am at 225 Graham Memorial. My email is mail@taylorbranch.com. I would welcome the chance to communicate directly.

    • Marcia says:

      Thank you, Dr. Branch, for your comment. Yes, I think having the panel was better than not having the panel–mostly because you were on it! At the same time, the pattern of exclusion that it embodied did exacerbate some hurts many of us are feeling.
      I am very thankful to hear from you and to have your comments on my blog. I have reached out to you several times these last few months. I never knew if you actually got my messages via facebook and twitter so I am glad to have another way to contact you. I will certainly do that right away. John and I would welcome a chance to talk with you more.
      Thank you again for reading and for commenting and, of course, for your courageous work on this and many other issues.
      Peace,
      Marcia

  7. Well said!! As a northern black I was always fascinated by the capacity of blacks at UNC to forgive folks and revere them. Bill Friday was a prime example. His reputation as a friend of blacks because of what he advocated for improving HBCUs was incredible. He was responding to court cases that said if there was no law school, etc. at the black schools you had to let blacks into the white schools. His so-called championship for HBCUs was to keep blacks off Lily white Carolina’s campus, and neither he nor Bobby Knight objected to the power of revenue sports until black athletes began to dominate. In answer to Mr Branch above, who I respect mightily, no, having an all white panel was an insult, it is always an insult when white people presume to talk about issues of race without people of color at the table. It was, unfortunately, during my time at UNC, The Carolina Way and one I called them on repeatedly.

    • Marcia says:

      Dear Dr. Newsom,
      Thank you for reading and for your comment. Your words share much needed perspective on how race functions at UNC and in many institutions in this country. Bill Friday’s role on the Knight Commission is also something held up and revered in the Carolina community. The more I explored the work, however, the more deeply troubled I was by its approach and tone. The language used about revenue athletes was often that which described them as interlopers and those who were tainting the values of institutions. There are many examples of how race and privilege were not surfaced but powerfully at play in the committee’s work.
      I am very thankful for your words here and for the work you do. And for the work you did at UNC as well.
      Peace,
      Marcia


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