I have a long, long list of teams I hate. I hate those teams for a variety of reasons. Just as a few examples, I don’t like the New York Yankees’ philosophy of attempting to buy a World Series ring, I don’t like the Indiana Pacers’ dirty style of play, I don’t like the Chicago Cubs as a crosstown rival of the White Sox, and I don’t like the fact that Carolina is an abomination against humankind. I’ll hate some of those teams for all of my life, whereas others are just temporary grudges that I’ll probably forget a few years down the line. And I think that this hatred helps define me as a sports fan more than anything else, except for tents and body paint.
Let me clarify what exactly I mean by “hate.” Hatred in the context of sports doesn’t mean the same thing as hatred in virtually any other aspect of life. I might abhor the concept of a given team, but that doesn’t mean I would ever wish any harm against any of its players. It might be fun to watch them lose, but that’s essentially where the line is drawn. On the field, the opponent is the enemy. Off the court, he or she is just another person trying to make something out of life.
When it comes to the other teams’ fans, though, “off the court” means nothing. I’ve lived in Tobacco Road territory for 10 years now, and I would engage in smack talk with fans of N.C. State or UNC any day we play each other, any day we’re about to play each other or any day the sun rises in the east. Part of the thrill of beating Carolina was the fact that I had unmitigated bragging rights the next day. That is such an irresistible prospect that even the threat of Carolina fans doing the same to me next time around isn’t strong enough to stop me.
A lot of people who aren’t quite as intensely into sports as I am wonder why I hold this much animosity for other teams. The first reason is that arguing with other fans is just a lot of fun. I’m not satisfied with that explanation, though: Why do we take pleasure in these rivalries?
The next reason that jumps out is the argument that we set up our rivals as “others.” We create a character that encompasses everything we dislike about our rivals and use that character to define what we are not. We like to make fun of Carolina students for their ongoing academic and athletic scandals, but the only reason that argument sticks with us is because we see our program as clean. It wouldn’t be the same if we made up a stereotype that Carolina students are all left-handed: We don’t define ourselves as a right-handed campus, so why do we care if they’re left-handed?
But this explanation doesn’t satisfy me, either. I have no doubt that it’s true, but I don’t think it’s complete enough. It seems to me that this “other-ization” of the enemy would require some sort of separation beyond just the fact that we prefer a different shade of blue. In the Duke-Carolina rivalry, or for other classic rivalries such as Auburn-Alabama (war eagle), part of the fun is the lack of separation. It’s the fact that you can go to Target, buy a Duke-related item, and get into a little back-and-forth with the cashier who seems to prefer the triumph of evil over good. It’s the fact that you can meet someone for the first time and—just because they happen to be wearing Red Sox gear—get into some sort of sadomasochistic argument about which Sox team has had a worse season. More broadly, it’s the fact that you can instantly connect with someone you’d never otherwise know precisely because you hate that person’s team.
The most important thing to remember about sports hatred is the fact that the fans of any two teams have more similarities than differences. Carolina’s our neighbor, they’re consistently good at basketball, and they’re almost as academically elite as Duke. We’re supposedly always at each other’s throats, yet Duke students party with Carolina students. Duke students date—or at least hook up with—Carolina students. We have a bus that runs between our campuses every half hour, and we have students who study at both campuses.
The camaraderie between Duke and Carolina is forged in our mutual sports hatred. We hate each other because we respect each other, and we respect each other because we hate each other. Most importantly, Carolina fans are the only ones we can look in the eye and smile at while offering a hearty “GTHC.”
Jordan DeLoatch is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Jordan on Twitter @jstorm64.