Calling Audibles Part XXIII: The Anatomy of the Asterisk

“White people are accountable for the ways in which we fail to hear and understand the needs and claims that other communities make upon us… white learning [often] comes at the expense of those already multiply harmed by white interpersonal and structural failures in perception, sensitivity, and justice.” –Aana Marie Vigen, “To Hear and to Be Accountable” in disrupting White Supremacy From Within:  White People on What We Need to Do”

UNC just can’t seem to help itself.

They keep worsting themselves with the football fiasco.  Now Hakeem Nicks, the all time best receiver ever to put on the Carolina blue jersey, will have an asterisk next to all of his records set during the 2008 season.  According to the News and Observer (and I am sure there is more to the story than they are reporting) Hakeem was involved in the “improper benefits” and “academic fraud” that involved a tutor assisting players with papers.   Don’t think for a minute that because you have read the newspaper or even talked to people close to the situation that you know the whole story.  Unless you have talked directly to Hakeem Nicks and Jennifer Wiley about this, you do not know the whole story.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Hakeem did receive assistance with a paper from tutor, Jennifer Wiley.  Where does retroactively punishing him get anyone?  For Hakeem, this strategy offers him no opportunity for recourse or for due process.  Had he been held accountable for something of this nature at the time, his whole season would not have an asterisk.  He may have missed a game or two and had to pay for tutoring services.   He may have had the opportunity to go before the Honor Council if the action merited it.  We’ll never know since there was no opportunity for a process of investigation and accountability to play out in any way that is fair.   So what could UNC possibly be getting out of this punishment after the fact?

This public act of chastening seems to fly in the face of claims that the institution is about “restoring its integrity” and “getting to the bottom of what really happened.” So while you are putting an asterisk next to Hakeem’s record setting 2008 season, put an asterisk next to UNC’s statements about integrity and the “Carolina Way.”

And we might want to track down any college student who has ever had someone assist them with writing a paper (come on, you know who you are) and put an asterisk next to their degree.  Heck, put an asterisk next to whatever job they have now or anything they accomplished while in school.  If they received assistance on a paper, it’s all suspect, right?

What I want is for someone at the University of North Carolina to finally come out and say what all this is really about for them.  Institutional abuses of power and public chastenings are exercised to send a message. And the message is coming through loud and clear.

Several days ago while walking down to the street to go to the beach where we are on vacation I passed a large house being rented by a big family.  Several of the cars had UNC stickers on them.  Soon after they arrived they hoisted the rebel flag and it flew proudly above the place they were vacationing for their entire stay.  It is a disturbing message no matter what it means to the people who felt moved to pack it along with their bathing suits and go to the trouble of hanging it up.  No matter how you spin it, it is not a welcome mat for people of color.  That’s the collective, cultural understanding of that symbol whether some people want it to be or not.

We can say the same thing about these punitive measures taken by UNC toward now 18 black young men who came to UNC to be students and play football.  This whole situation embodies a deep ambivalence toward the realities of life in diverse communities.  Sharing power, listening to voices other than the voices of those who hold institutional power, making space for justice that takes into account the complexities of big time football, and just simply having in place standards of due process have all been conspicuously absent in this situation.  So why not put an asterisk next to statements that the University has made about valuing diversity and not discriminating against anyone based on race.

Take Dwight Jones’ case as a way to explore the anatomy of the asterisk when it comes to big time football at an institution who does business like UNC.  Here’s a young man who, along with Hakeem, stands as the best wide receiver ever to play at North Carolina.  He’s a native son of North Carolina.  He worked hard to take care of his business while a student at UNC.  And he is just a few hours from graduating.  He was not involved in the tutor and benefits scandal.  Dwight’s cousin posted a picture on Dwight’s Facebook page this past December to advertise a birthday party for Dwight.  Dwight had not seen the picture until UNC officials showed it to him and told him he was ineligible for the bowl game because of an impermissible use of his image.

Dwight got the cousin to take it down, made a statement and was ruled eligible to play.  And the backstory to that process does not make UNC look like they learned anything about due process.  I know that to be true because my husband, John Shoop, was directly involved in walking along with Dwight through it all.

Dwight played in the bowl game.  Afterward, his time at UNC was over and he was preparing for the draft.  His cousin apparently put the picture back up and had the party.  Dwight did not attend the party.  Just a few days before UNC’s pro day when Dwight would have worked out for pro scouts from all the NFL teams, Bubba Cunningham (AD at UNC) called him to say he was not welcome at the pro-day because the picture had gone back up and the party had gone on.  When Dwight said he didn’t go to the party, that didn’t matter to Mr. Cunningham because of a “zero tolerance policy.”  Zero tolerance of what, I wonder.  Zero tolerance of family members who do things we wish they hadn’t?  Zero tolerance of situations in which no NCAA violation actually occurred?  Zero tolerance of honoring four years of being an important and positive part of the Carolina community and having a shot at an NFL career?  Bubba Cunningham’s message was clear:  “You are not welcome here.”

Dwight went on not to even get drafted.  We’ve heard that there was an asterisk, a red flag next to Dwight for “off the field issues” because of UNC’s actions.   What a needlessly sad turn of events after a great college career.  Dwight’s life so altered because of a picture his cousin put up on Facebook indicates a profoundly distorted institutional will to “make an example” of disobedient players.

My family still is picking up the pieces, still stitching back together what our present and future life looks like in the wake of our time at UNC.  We’ve learned a lot.  We’re still grieving.  And when we hear things like Dwight’s story and Hakeem’s, we feel angry all over again.  Most of all, I am sad.  I am sad for Dwight, for Hakeem, for Devon, for Deunta, for Greg, and for so many others who wonder what it all means for them at this point in their young lives.  For UNC to go from one of the best things that ever happened to them to one of the worst is such a needlessly cruel twist.

And the most tragic part of this on-going fiasco is that those who are the most blind, the most oblivious continue to benefit from the situation.  How about we put an asterisk next to all the money generated from the sale of #88 and #83 jerseys for the beneficiary institutions?  How about we have UNC give back the ticket revenue from those games where those record-setting passes were caught?  Put an asterisk next to the Rams club money, the stadium construction project, and the Loudermilk center.   While you’re at it, put an asterisk next the academic department that hired and trained the tutors and steered players toward certain classes.  And put an asterisk next to the compliance department that oversaw the athletic department for all these years.  And put an asterisk next to the raise and promotion some of them got.

But that’s not the way asterisks work in a system so entrenched in its own repetitive story of what’s right and what’s wrong.  Asterisks like the ones Hakeem is getting next to his accomplishments prop up that distorted story; they don’t disrupt it in ways that make deep cultural shifts and institutional changes possible.

For the asterisk to become an instrument of truth and institutional health, some hard questions would have to take center stage in the clean up project going on right now at UNC.  How about taking a hard look at the fact that the oldest state university in America currently has no black head coach in any sport?  And in the past there have only been two at UNC–one for one season as the interim (Everett Withers, football, 2011) and one for one year (Hubert West, track, 1982-83).  How about taking a stand on behalf of student-athletes as an important take away from this whole experience?  How about taking the lead in this state, indeed in this country, in assuring due process for all student-athletes?  How about asking hard questions of the power brokers at UNC instead of a steady stream of firings, early retirements, and other forms of casting people out of the community who had little say in what happened or in creating the conditions that made the problems possible in the first place?  And finally how about telling the truth about the anatomy of the asterisk? Is it an instrument of reifying power?  Or an instrument of truth telling?

The audible here is for all of us in a culture that has yet to deal with the profoundly entrenched mentalities of racism and how they ripple out into our systems and institutions and norms.  If the privileges that have derived from racism were duly noted and accounted for, most of us white people would have asterisks next to our names, our accomplishments, and our possessions.  Indeed institutions like the University of North Carolina would have several asterisks next to both its historical narrative and its present practices.  If that statement gets under your skin, let it sit there are a while.  Get a feel for it.  The audible we call from there might just be the game changer the world needs.


18 thoughts on “Calling Audibles Part XXIII: The Anatomy of the Asterisk”

  1. Damn! Preach woman! That is succinctly, concisely, and powerfully written. I fear so much that the powers that be at UNC are not listening and won’t. I’m a Tar Heel born. I am an alumnus. They will listen to us. They must. UNC is not solely theirs. It’s ours. And those boys. I am really fired up now!

    1. Marcia says:

      I am thankful for so many alumni, faculty, and staff at UNC who are concerned. Cultures change from the ground up usually, not from the top down. The work is slow, but I hear from more and more people who are feeling the call to get involved and ask questions. You are so right–UNC is not “theirs” it is an institution called to serve the entire state of North Carolina–including the young men who put on a football helmet with UNC colors. You put it powerfully. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. Menakov says:

    Marcia, I respect the open expression of your opinion. I also commend your gracious writing style.

    I hope you are not insinuating that Withers was not retained as Head Football Coach because of his race.. His performance in that position did not merit retention. To attribute his failure to race is a blatant f orm of racism, and I am sure that is not your nature.

    1. Marcia says:

      Dear Reader,
      Thank you for reading and for commenting. I appreciate your question. I do not know all the reasons that Everett Withers did not get the permanent Head Coaching job at UNC. That is probably something we’ll never really know. I simply raise the concern about the oldest state university in the country having such a poor record when it comes to having people of color as Head Coaches of their sports teams. I named Coach Withers and Coach West only to say they are the only Head Coaches of color in the history of the school. I do not think that reality is racially neutral. The question of why Coach Withers did not get the job at UNC is not a question I can answer. The question of why UNC has not had more Head Coaches of color is a question I would like the University to ask itself.
      Thank you again for reading. I hope you will keep reading and commenting in the future. Blessings to you.

  3. Sharon says:

    What a load of self-serving sour grapes. While I am not at all happy with the way UNC handled aspects of this scandal, to at all equate it with racism is ridiculous. Nothing Carolina has done even hints at racism

    You saw a Confederate flag flying at a home that had some cars with Carolina bumper stickers on it so UNC is a racist institution? Carolina fans are racist? To call that a stretch is an understatement. What about the cars parked in front of the house that didn’t have Carolina bumper stickers?

    What if I were to call you racist because you assume that people flying a Confederate flag are racist? Would you call Carolina fans racist if that vacation home had been occupied by a black family flying a Black Panther flag?

    If it is racist that no head coaches at Carolina are black, is it racist that the majority of football and basketball players are black? Should we have an equal number of white players to even things out even if that means the team wouldn’t be as good?

    As to your complaint about the asterisks by some players’ names and their records, as you well know or should know being a coach’s wife, the NCAA is forcing Carolina to do that. It wasn’t by choice.

    Just don’t get me started on the NCAA and the way they handled this mess. I would like to think that the aspects of the investigation that were bungled by UNC are because the university had no experience in dealing with a situation like this. The SEC schools, with all their experience, would never have capitulated as UNC did.

    Who are you to disparage the school that I love? While you assign all the blame to UNC, what about the coaches – your husband being one – who didn’t know what some of their players were involved in? What about the players themselves who did wrong? Are none of them responsible for any of these? What about the NCAA who has deemed sleeping on a friend’s coach worse than a father trying to sell his son to the highest bidder. Now you want to talk about racism? Selling a black man to a university would fit that bill.

    I am a huge Coach Davis supporter. I was devastated when he was fired and did not believe he deserved it. I think if he had to be fired because, as head coach, he was ultimately responsible for what happened under his watch, then so should Chancellor Thorp be held responsible for what happened under his watch and he too should be fired.

    I can’t tell you how much I hate that innocent people and players were harmed by this scandal. To a lesser extent, the fans were harmed as well. 2009 was going to be our breakthrough year. We were looking towards an 11-win season and a big bowl game only to have it yanked out from under us. We’ve had to endure the local media and state fans constant drivel and accusatons, some of them basely. Neither of those two groups has let something like the truth get in the way of a good story. Now, I have to say you have joined them.

    1. Marcia says:

      Dear Sharon,
      Thank you for reading and for commenting. Race is a very painful issue to discuss and it hurts when the institutions we love disappoint us. It sounds like you are sorting out a lot of what has hit you with all that happened at UNC. I hope you will keep doing that important work. Everybody that is a part of the Carolina community needs a gut check after everything that happened.
      I agree with you that the NCAA is due a lot of hard questions. I hope you will check out some of my other posts on just that in the Calling Audibles series. One thing I have learned is that the NCAA does not rule players ineligible, Universities do. It is a kind of bullying that the NCAA does around lots of its regulations, but the University makes the call. You would also be interested in Taylor Branch’s article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “The Shame of College Sports.” You can find a link to that in some of my other Calling Audibles posts, too.
      Race is a difficult thing for us to talk about in our country. There are so many layers to it that are unexamined. There are so many feelings unexpressed. Even the mention of it brings up a lot of anger and hurt. I hope you will join me in not being afraid to look into the shadows of how racism seeps into who we are and how we see things, not because we are bad people, but because it has been such a potent idea in our society. It is only with intentional work that we can begin to rebuild our communities, our relationships in a mode that is anti-racist. Are you familiar with the book “Racism without Racists”? It is a really helpful framing of a lot of what ails us.
      Thanks, again, Sharon, for reading and for commenting. I hope you will continue to do both.

      1. Sharon says:

        Marcia, I do agree with you that racism is alive and well in this country as well as the world as a whole. However, your trying to use a Confederate flag flown at a vacation home occupied by car owners with Carolina bumper stickers to accuse UNC of being a racist instituion is a stretch at best and slanderous at worst. .

        I would love it if you would specifically address my comment as to why it is racist that there have only been two black head coaches at Carolina, but it isn’t racist that the vast majority of scholarship athletes are black You call it a poor record for the oldest state university in the country when it comes to having people of color as head coaches of their sports teams. Why do you not say the reverse – that the university has a poor record when it comes to having white people on the football and basketball team?s In my opinion, you can’t have it both ways. Either both are racist or both aren’t. Just as the teams should be made up of the best players regardless of race, the best person for the job should be hired as a coach, regardless of race.

        Why don’t we bring sex into this same discussion. Why aren’t you calling UNC a sexist insitution? What is the percentage of head coaches that are female compared to male? I dare say, inspite of Title IX, there are way more male athletes on scholarship than there are female. Just as racism is alive and well, so is sexism. I would say sexism is even more rampant. Don’t forget, black men were freed before white women who were owned by their fathers until they got married and then by their husbands. Black men could also vote before women could as well. The country wouldn’t even ratify the Equal Rights Amendment for women.

        1. Marcia says:

          Dear Sharon,
          Thanks again for continuing the conversation.
          I appreciate your questions and concerns.
          I hope you will go back and reread the section of my post about the confederate flag. I think you will find there that I do not use that as a way to label UNC as a racist institution. I equate that symbol and its shared cultural meaning with the dynamic of the public way that UNC has sent messages to now 18 black football players (and I dare say others, too). If you are arguing that UNC is immune from the effects of racist mentalities and practices in our country I would invite you to explore that a bit more. I think most people who have done anti-racism work would agree that racism is a system of power and privilege that seeps into institutions, attitudes, and practices in ways we’re may be blind to but that are no less tenacious. Excavating the power dynamics of racism also unveils the impossibility of “reverse racism” as you describe it in your question about the prevalence of black football players. The power dynamics are categorically different.
          As a feminist, I agree with you that gender and sexism also offer important frameworks for critical thinking about power dynamics and inequities. I hope you will read my Calling Audibles post entitled “Arrested Development” about being a woman involved in the world of football.
          As far as gauging which “ism” is more rampant in our culture (sexism or racism and we could throw in classicism, too), I do not see any possible gain in creating a contest out of oppressive systems. All of them are fed by abuses of power, fear, and deep denial. I say let’s all work on letting go of our fears and that we all try practicing what it feels like to really share power in this world. It is from those spaces of courage and truth that real transformation emerges.
          Thanks again, Sharon. Take good care. And I look forward to hearing from you again.

  4. Truthiness says:

    Please present an accurate profile of Dwight Jones before trying to pretend this was a railroading based on race. You well know that you are vastly minimizing the issues over Jones, at Carolina and after.

    Not being able to work out on UNC’s Pro Day was just a small issue for Jones. Regardless of the collegiate concerns, the biggest issue with Jones’s reputation and the cause of his not being drafted was his performance at the Senior Bowl. His attitude was terrible and he played poorly. The coaches involved were unsatisfied and let NFL teams know that. This is a fact found all over the internet but you don’t mention it at all.

    He did go undrafted but was picked up by Houston. He showed up with a poor attitude there and quit several days in. Again this is a fact found all over the internet but you don’t mention it at all.

    But really poor Dwight. Racist UNC must be responsible for all that too.

    You said your husband walked Jones through the photo on facebook issue. He did a poor job then.
    Why didn’t anyone tell Jones to change his facebook password to keep his cousin off his facebook page? Why didn’t anyone tell Jones to remove his facebook page altogether if it was causing issues.

    Normally I really admire your work but I certainly can’t take anything seriously that lacks so many facts. I also find that introducing the idea that UNC might have some systematic racial issues to address based on a vacation house to be ludicrous.

    1. Marcia says:

      Dear Truthiness,
      Thank you for reading and for commenting.
      It is interesting that you have given yourself that name! I don’t tend to look for facts from internet sports chats. If you do, I would encourage you to seek out other modes of gathering information. Those are not facts. Those are rumors, hunches, and often inaccurate. Believe me, I know this because I see things written about people I know personally that are just not true. So, you are correct, I do not site those sources and never would dream of doing that given their questionable integrity.
      As I mentioned to Sharon in the comment above, race is a painful issue to even bring up in our country. There is so much there that is hard to look at especially when institutions we love disappoint us. It sounds like it hit a nerve with you. God’s grace is what allows us to follow those difficult feelings in order to gain new wisdom about ourselves and our world. Race is a potent category and I do not think much of what happens in this country is racially neutral. I hope you will continue to explore what that could mean for all of us. The tough questions may bring us more space for truth–and the truth can set us free.
      Thanks again, Truthiness, for commenting. Blessings to you and yours.

  5. UNC Prof says:

    To those last two posters: Dwight Jones may be an imperfect person and football player (I don’t really know and neither do you), but that does not and cannot excuse the misbehavior of the adults who were supposed to be responsible for looking after his interests. Due process rights were violated, not even acknowledged in fact, and UNC joined with the NCAA in once again placing its own selfish interests above the interests of legally powerless players. Marcia is absolutely right to point the finger of blame back to the hypocritical institutions that have systematized abusive practices. UNC has spent two years blowing smoke and hoping to hide the full truth about the system it helps to perpetuate. We should all be thankful that Marci Shoop and a few others have had the courage to speak out and resist the propaganda machine.

    1. Marcia says:

      Dear UNC Prof,
      Thank you for reading and for your comment. I appreciate you focusing us all back to the question at hand: how have the institutions we’ve entrusted with power violated their own principals and values at the expense of those who trusted them?
      There have been people who have suggested to me that the players deserved what happened to them because they did something wrong. It is important for us all to remember that in our country even people who do something wrong have due process rights. Big time college student-athletes are a class apart from all others if we place them outside of the guarantee of due process. One person, a UNC official, suggested to me that I didn’t realize how bad some of the players were (ignoring the fact that many of these players were very close to our family) and they deserved everything they got. I suggested to this official that even murderers have due process in our country. And even the players who are guilty of NCAA violations (and not all of them who were punished are) did not do anything that would merit denying them their basic human rights.
      Had due process been in place then we would be able to spare players like Dwight Jones the indignity of “you are not welcome here” because of something like a picture on Facebook. Dwight is a good football player. He is quiet and he takes care of his business. Dwight is a person that my family loves. We are proud of Dwight and pray that the future will unfold in a way that is good for him and his family.
      Thank you, again, for reading and for posting. These are important times for UNC and I am thankful for your voice in the midst of it all.

    2. Sharon says:

      UNC Prof, as I was one of the two previous posters, I assume your comment is directed towards me. Please tell me where I even mentioned Dwight Jones much less called him an imperfect person or football player. Jones, however, is an adult and is responsible for his own behavior. I’m not sure why you are trying to hold other adults at Carolina responsible for Jones’ actions.

      1. Marcia says:

        Dear Sharon,
        Thanks for commenting again. You are correct that you did not mention Dwight Jones. In my read of the UNC Prof’s comment he/she was not suggesting that you had said something about Dwight Jones, but he/she was suggesting that both of the previous posters may want to consider refocusing on the issue at hand which is due process for players.
        While I agree, Sharon, that people are responsible for their own actions, Dwight and the other players were a part of a system that, unfortunately, failed to give them a fair process through which they could take responsibility. The question also remains for me about what exactly it is that Dwight did that was wrong.
        I am thankful that you are engaged in this discussion, Sharon. I pray that you can take a deep breath and continue to participate with a generous heart.

  6. Capt Marty says:

    Poor Dwight, supposedly played football for free his whole life (I doubt that thanks to UNC) then just as the Houston Texans were about to actually pay him to play football…… He quit! I can’t wait to see where the UNC education takes him from here. Any thoughts?

    1. Marcia says:

      Dear Captain Marty,
      Thanks for reading and for commenting. It’s always a challenge in electronic communications to discern the tone of certain comments, but I am picking up on some sarcasm and some shaming in yours. My thoughts are mostly that you may need to take a step back and consider the intention behind your comments. Dwight in a fine person and very dear to us. And it is clear from your comments that there is a lot you don’t know about him, about what happened, and about what people need from each other in trying times. The more pressing question for me is what kind of education have you had in being a constructive member of the communities you inhabit and where will you go from here? I am praying you can cultivate a curiosity for less superficial kinds of knowledge and connection.
      Blessings to you in your journey in 2013.

  7. WildatHeart says:

    I really appreciate your point of view. I am one of those NC State grads who has been following the “scandal” with interest for what, almost three years now. I reached a point sometimes last year where I started feeling sorry for the athletes at UNC who were being used by the adults over there. It is interesting that you bring up race because there really does seem to be a “Plantation Mentality” in how the university has reacted. It appears to people like me that for them “image is everything” and be damned with the real lives that are affected. Back in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s my family had the privilege of getting to know the coaches and football players at State (this we pre internet, social media, etc). We had permission to have players over for dinner (we did it for “regular” students also – plus we were dirt poor and living in a duplex). This gave the guys a chance to get away from football and be with a real family and gave us a chance to know the young men behind the uniforms. It was one of the most rewarding times of our life and we maintain those friendships to this day. Amato’s staff, the internet, closed practices, etc. ended all of that many years ago – but I know the young men are still real people with feelings, problems, dreams, fears, etc. and I hate how they are being used.

    Thank you again for your heart.

    1. Marcia says:

      Dear Friend,
      Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for sharing some of your own personal story. You share very vividly the difference that real relationships make in how we understand situations. That is perhaps the most heartbreaking part of everything that happened (and continues to happen) at UNC for us. So many people who are making the decisions, crafting the policies, and setting the tone for the university’s response do now know these young men. There are some destructive stereotypes at work instead. When stereotypes replace relationships in an institution’s policy making procedures, people with the least amount of power are usually the ones who are hurt the most. We continue to grieve for the real losses that many of these young men we care about have experienced. I hope you will continue to share your story and continue to reach out to people with the generosity you have described.
      Thank you again for commenting.

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