It was Jan. 14, 1984. The Maryland Terrapins were playing at Cameron. Herman Veal of Maryland walked out onto the court. A barrage of more than 1,000 pairs of panties, contraceptives and a sign reading, “Hey Herm, Did You Send Her Flowers Afterward?” greeted him. Although never formally charged, Veal was alleged to have sexually abused a fellow student. But this was 1984, three years before the Duke Women’s Center was proposed. Things have certainly changed.
It was Jan. 26, 2013. A sophomore from the University of Maryland stepped up to the foul line inside Cameron. He rocked from side to side, centering himself. As he focused on orange iron, a chant started to build to his right. Frantic hand waving, then steadied rhythm, finally the words, “No means no.” His attention gathered on one spot 15 feet ahead and 10 feet high; he probably didn’t hear the chanting. But I did.
The sophomore was Dez Wells, the guard eligible to play for the 2012-13 season after the NCAA approved his appeal. He transferred to the University of Maryland after being expelled from Xavier “amid sexual assault allegations later deemed unworthy of trial by a prosecutor in Ohio.” These are the same allegations that motivated the chant and almost kept him out of the sport he loves.
I’ve always been a big fan of taunting. For me it’s a major part of the game: a test of mental strength, a source of home field advantage and a way for the fans to do more than just watch. And the Crazies are pretty good at it. After popularizing the term “airball,” we covered the court with pizza boxes for N.C. State’s Lorenzo Charles, who had been arrested for stealing pizzas, and shoes for N.C. State’s Jim Valvano, when the team was being investigated for sneaker violations. All of these taunts mocked something solely about the player, or team.
This isn’t the case with Dez Wells. “No means no” implicates the victim. On one hand, Wells is legally innocent and trying to move past a potentially career-ending accusation. You aren’t calling him fat, or short, or stupid; you are calling him a rapist. But on the other hand, someone felt victim to sexual assault. The saying, “We will look back on this and laugh” doesn’t really apply to rape. To anyone who has been sexually assaulted, hearing the student population cheer “no means no” trivializes a trauma.
It was odd to see these chants coming from the Cameron Crazies, who exemplify a work hard, play hard mentality that is uncommonly popular with the administration. As I looked around and saw a diverse mix of men and women smiling and chanting, I just chalked it up to crowd mentality. I mean, half the time you don’t even know what the chant is, you sort of just start making a noise in rhythm until you manage to decode what everyone is saying. And we are a homogeneous group valuing Duke’s success and opponents’ defeat, so it is usually a safe bet. That is, until the impact of the chant leaves the court.
I’m not here to preach. I just see this sort of mob mentality as a pervasive problem, our morals and thoughts being easily skewed by the actions of a large enough group, As a society, we’ve progressed since 1984, but as individuals, we still battle the same problems. For me, it’s about integrity. Don’t ride from the Women’s Center on a moral high horse to dismount right before entering Cameron. But if you chanted “no means no,” conscious of its implications, and continued despite them, this article isn’t for you. That’s your right, and we are allowed to disagree.
Integrity is something I’m working on, as part of the whole growing up shtick. I witnessed a lot of hypocrisy in Cameron at that home game, but I was only bothered because I don’t think it was intentional. I think it was just a lot of amped up Duke fans chanting whatever and trying to have a good time. These types of situations will continually find us, with social pressure pushing us toward a subjective “good time.” From career paths to weekend activities to what books to read, what the majority is doing is not synonymous with what’s right for you. Think for yourself. It’s scary at first, but you’ll get less dizzy by not constantly looking around to see what everyone else is doing.
P.S. For a good taunt, Google “Duke Speedo Guy.”
Travis Smith is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Travis on Twitter @jtsmith317.