Why You Should be Rooting For Duke Tonight


nolan smith

By Paul Schmidt

Let me tell you a story. There’s a small school, competing against a bunch of larger ones. They a plucky bunch of overachievers — underdogs, if you will. They might even be described as scrappy.

They are constantly beating up on bigger schools on a great run through the post-season tournament. They continue to beat these larger schools until they come up against one of the state’s biggest schools, a team full of athletes. The underdogs, improbably, win that state title.

Now, replace “scrappy” in the first paragraph with “white”.  Replace the word “athletes” in the second paragraph with “African-Americans.”

That’s your plot to the movie Hoosiers. Sounds just a little racist, doesn’t it?

Now, it most likely wasn’t pitched that way, and you can’t rewrite history. That was, in fact, what happened — with some liberties taken, granted, but it’s Hollywood.  The larger spirit of the story was the same.

Perhaps then, it isn’t fair to say the movie Hoosiers is racist. I certainly don’t think it’s going too far to say that the hero worship of the underdog such as Hickory High might be, though.

Spike Lee first floated this idea his book “Best Seat in The House,” co-written with the late Ralph Wiley. And it isn’t crazy. America loves it’s underdog stories, but it especially loves it when it’s of the flavor of “Band of overachieving white guys take down the bigger, more talented black players” variety.

Which is, in a little bit of a convoluted way, why I’m rooting for Duke tonight.

I think this first came to mind when I heard this special run by the Butler Bulldogs being referred to as “Hoosiers II.” It certainly seems like it — Hickory High had some great players and weren’t exactly Cinderellas when it came down to it, and neither is Butler. They were a five seed that was actually ranked in the top-10 at the end of the regular season. This was a well regarded team.

However, you no doubt see where I’m going with this — Butler has, as a group, overachieved greatly by pulling off upsets against Syracuse, Kansas State and even Michigan State (where, though Vegas had the Bulldogs set as favorites, the Spartans were the more talented team). Those schools all have some extremely talented athletes (many of whom will play in the NBA, and many of whom are black). Butler, as a group is very, very white — not lily white, like Hickory High, but extremely white nonetheless.

And given that a majority of our favorite March Madness upsets involve a whole lot of pale, it’s hard not to wonder just how much of a point Spike Lee really had.

America, for the most part, isn’t making a conscious decision to pull for the white kids. But you have to wonder just how much of people’s subconscious is really influencing things during the NCAA Tournament. You have to wonder just how much our subconscious enjoys seeing people…”like ourselves”…succeed.

Of course, the screw also turns both ways — it’s just as racist towards white people as well. For one, it assumes that the white kids always will be that band of overachievers, which is horribly unfair to both teams in any game. It also means that many pull against teams like Duke — teams that are largely successful on an annual basis with a high percentage of talented white and black athletes. Apparently, not only do we only like to see our white kids as the scrappy underdogs, we don’t particular care to see them successful and coexisting with an equal number of black athletes.

In short, I’d go as far to say that Spike really was right about all of us — we really are racist deep down, even if we don’t want to be.

And no, that’s not why I’ll be rooting for Duke tonight — it’ll even be an older and more deeply ingrained reason than race as to why I’ll be rooting for the Blue Devils tonight: I can win some money if they do.  Pretty easy.

But if you’re pulling for Butler because they’re the Cinderella, and they have beaten some bigger, badder schools on the way to tonight’s NCAA Championship game…it might be time to start substituting the races for the adjectives like scrappy and athletes.

It might make us all better people in the end.


  1. Paul Schmidt says

    Overtly so? I’d agree…subconsciously maybe not though. When we talk about those great NCAA upsets, look at the ones that are talked about. No one really mentions Coppin State, Northwestern State or Southern, the largely black schools that did it…they like to talk about Santa Clara. Gonzaga. And Butler. It’s a bit bothersome…

  2. Paul Schmidt says

    Your exceptions would be in my mind, Nova and George Mason. But…does that make them the exceptions that prove the rule? I don’t know. I’m just postulating here…

  3. Paul Schmidt says

    I expected this argument — hence the point about why people don’t want to see their white people TOO good. That’s been the problem with Duke all along. White people as the underdog, fighting for their lives…that’s the better story Pete. Tough to get behind white people coming out on top — that’s how it was for so much of history, without black people having a chance. What’s the fun of that story?

    Also, I said that I was pulling for Duke because it will win me some money — word for word. I don’t think there’s any shame in that. Doesn’t make anything else I said untrue, though.

  4. While I see where you’re going I think it’s a stretch to say that pulling for Butler is racist.

  5. Peter Christian says

    I declare propaganda BS… You’re cheering for Duke because it will earn you a 1st place finish in your brackets pool. Butler and Duke are equally “white,” the difference in this underdog story is not about race, it’s about money. Duke annually spends the same amount per player on it’s basketball team that Butler spends on it’s entire team. Duke is the elitest assholes that are the villains of this movie. Like the rich snobby assholes in Summer Catch and Butler is Freddie Prinze Jr. who is trying to fit in using his talent rather than his affluence and bank account. Yes I just discounted your entire theory by comparing Butler to FPJ. I don’t feel good about it but it just happened. Deal with it. Go Butler.

  6. paulmbanks says

    read this: it says some similar things…sorry the URL looks like shiiiite


  7. paulmbanks says

    and i guess i win a lot of money in my survivor pool if duke wins tonight too! so go blue devils!!!

  8. Peter Christian says

    Duke has fewer African-American players than Butler. Fact. My theory had sex with Jessica Biel, yours didn’t. I win.

  9. paulmbanks says

    Yo! post some comments on the Times live blog now! It’s dead over there

  10. A lot of us just simply root for who ever plays Duke.

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