Letter: Duke Basketball sponsor goes whole hog on environmental injustice

letter to the editor

While I am impressed by how hard students apparently studied for the recent tenting trivia test, I have an additional question for you: what sponsor of Duke Athletics is being accused of violating civil rights of communities in eastern NC? What sponsor of Duke Athletics successfully fought off nuisance lawsuits meant to compensate neighbors of industrial swine facilities, whose health and wellbeing had been negatively impacted for years?   

Answer: Smithfield Foods. 

I recently attended my first Duke basketball game (yes, it’s hard for faculty to score tickets), and was proud to see two of my recent students on the floor. At the time, they had just finished my course, Introduction to Environmental Science and Policy, which features a unit on environmental injustice and the hog industry in eastern NC. How strange to see them playing under a sign for Smithfield, a notorious player in NC politics

At halftime, the line at the Smithfield BLT cart was long, and I wondered how many people waiting for their sandwich knew the true cost of their bacon to the people of Sampson and Duplin Counties, where Smithfield’s operations are concentrated. 

After the game, I reached out to Mike Sobb, Associate Athletic Director and Director of Marketing at Duke Athletics, to ask about this relationship. I have not heard back. 

One predicted response may be that Duke Athletics cannot possibly look into all accusations made against their sponsors.  

This would not be a satisfactory answer for why this arm of our University accepts a sponsorship from a company that is accused of violating the civil rights of NC citizens, while the University itself claims as part of our Anti-Racist Commitment: we must ensure that anti-racism and equity remain long-term priorities for Duke, woven carefully into every aspect of our institutional strategy and culture.  

The pride that Duke fans have for their team was palpable in Cameron Stadium. We all deserve to be as proud of Duke University for truly upholding its commitment and values throughout all of its operations. 

Rebecca Vidra is a professor in the Nicholas School. 


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