A rivalry built on respect

<p>Duke and North Carolina knelt at halfcourt before the Feb. 18 basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium to honor the late Tar Heel head coach Dean Smith.</p>

Duke and North Carolina knelt at halfcourt before the Feb. 18 basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium to honor the late Tar Heel head coach Dean Smith.

The late Stuart Scott was honored at his alma mater Friday when the iconic SportsCenter host was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame—a powerful moment regardless of where you stand in the Tobacco Road Rivalry. His recognition was meaningful in many ways—from the public beatdown he inflicted on cancer to the way he shaped how we watch and listen to sports highlights in his role at ESPN. Even the most casual of sports fans knows Scott’s famous catchphrase, “Booyah.”

As I watched a video package of the ceremony, I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face speaking to Scott’s legacy.

Before Serena, before Ronda, there was Mia.

Every little girl growing up in the 1990s knew Mia Hamm. Factor in growing up in North Carolina like I did, and she was an absolute icon.

Regardless of her collegiate alliances, Hamm's contributions to the sport of soccer blazed the path for future female athletes to follow.

At the age of 15, Hamm was the youngest player on the U.S. national team. As a Tar Heel, she led her team to four NCAA championship appearances. At just 19, she won a World Cup—three Olympic medals followed. Hamm received nearly every honor imaginable before retiring, but the mother of three did not completely leave the soccer world. She now serves on the board of directors of major Italian club Roma and is a minority owner of the Los Angeles Football Club—set to join Major League Soccer in 2017.

Hamm's impact off the field is visible in the endorsements and opportunities now available to female athletes. Women like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey would not be the mega-stars they are today had America not first fallen in love with Mia.

North Carolinians—both native like myself, or by collegiate association—are quick to claim Hamm as a state icon, despite the fact that the she was actually born in Selma, Ala.

The best part of the Tobacco Road rivalry—in my opinion—is that Tar Heel or Blue Devil, we still recognize inspirational people from the school just down the road. From sharing Nobel Prizes to yelling and jumping as our basketball teams battle for bragging rights, North Carolina and Duke challenge each other and thus make each other better.

When Scott died in January, athletes, coaches, friends and fans across the country mourned. Duke and North Carolina united again just more than a month later when legendary Tar Heel head coach Dean Smith passed away. Blue Devils and Tar Heels alike shared condolences and acts of respect honoring both men that took many forms.

That respect continued through the tip of the first North Carolina-Duke matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when the Blue Devils devoted a moment of silence in Smith’s honor. Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and their teams took a knee with arms wrapped around one another at center court.

Scott, Smith and Hamm can and should be revered by even the most devout Duke fan. By choosing to look up to Mia Hamm even after becoming a Blue Devil, that little girl who grew up playing soccer and watching Hamm is not abandoning any allegiances. If there is one thing Mia taught me, it is that a sports hero can transcends intercollegiate athletics.

Born with a partial clubfoot, she may not have shown signs at a young age of the graceful athlete she would become in Chapel Hill and beyond. But regardless of the shade of blue on her collegiate uniform, Hamm remains a role model for girls both young and old.

As Scott would have said, she’s “as cool as the other side of the pillow.”


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