Duke University B-Ball Players Plagued by ’Gay’ Taunts

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 20, 2009

In an essay about homophobic taunting aimed at Duke's basketball team, New Republic writer Darby Seyward compiles a list of homophobic YouTube videos and other pranks targeting the team, and asks why the school comes in for more than its fair share of such juvenile jeering.

Writes Seyward, "while it's obviously hard to quantify the assertion that Duke is the object of more homophobia than other teams, it's also hard to think of any other squad in college hoops that has seen so many of its players singled out so prominently for gay bashing in recent years."

As to why Duke suffers so many such jests, Seyward speculates that it "has something to do with race and class."

Explains Seyward, "Disparagers of Duke typically frame their opposition to the school, and its basketball team, in terms of anti-elitism," and continues on with, "Duke, according to this view, is a private school plopped in the Carolina Piedmont, where it caters to wealthy, mostly white elites who have zero regard for the local community--in Will Blythe's words, 'those obnoxious students and that out-of-state arrogance.'"

Seyward finds that to be "a defensible sentiment, as far as it goes, even a liberal one in many respects.

"But, in the world of sports, being white as well as wealthy often translates into a perceived softness. (And Duke's white players seem to attract the lion's share of the homophobia directed at the team.)

"For many Duke bashers, expressing anti-gay sentiment seems to be just one more way of delivering the message that Duke players are whiny, wimpy, pampered products of privilege.

At Outsports.com, a site dedicated to GLBT athletic news, Jim Buzinski took note of Seyward's essay in a March 19 article.

"I think she gets it right," Buzinski wrote of Seyward's thoughts on the matter.

"Using gay as a slur is still acceptable, since even gay people disagree on what they find offensive.

"And in sports, gay = soft = not masculine," Buzinski continued.

"In addition, Duke basketball is a perennial power, which drives a lot of fans crazy with hatred and jealousy; hell, even I often root against Duke for reasons I can't really articulate (to me Duke = Yankees = Cowboys = Notre Dame)."

Buzinski went on, "If Duke stunk, none of this would be occurring, so a segment of Duke haters (still a distinct minority) see the only way to slam Duke players is to de-masculinize them, and what easier way they playing the gay card?"

A fellow New Republic writer posted his own thoughts in a March 19 commentary on Seyward's essay, calling the homophobic taunts a "problem."

Wrote Jason Zengerle in the New Republic's "The Plank" section, "Believe me, there's nothing worse than making an open and shut case as to why [Dukes] Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] is a right-wing, elitist instrument of Satan himself, only to have some yahoo frat boy undermine it all by holding up a '[Dukes player Kyle] Singler's a fag' sign."

Added Zengerle, "I also think Seyward's right that the homophobic taunts aimed at Duke players have a lot to do with the fact that many of them are white.

"In fact, thinking back on the various Dukies who've been called 'gay' over the years, the only black player I can recall who's faced that taunt is Brian Davis--and his reputed 'gayness' was always in relation to a white player, Christian Laettner, his best friend on the team.

Zengerle proposed an alternative viewpoint to Seyward's, however, in that he suspected that the homophobic teasing was a form of jocularity; in other words, it was an example of mostly white-on-white trash talk.

Zengerle noted that, "the presence of so many white players on Duke's team creates the somewhat unusual dynamic of white fans taunting white athletes.

"As a result, this white-on-white shit-talking frequently takes the form of the shit-talking that goes on between the white taunters and their white friends--which, if you've recently spent much time with a certain class of white guys between the ages of 15 and 40, you know is a pretty homophobic form of shit-talking."

A reader responding to the Zengerle piece in the comments traced the whole anti-gay hazing of Duke to Davis and Laettner indulging in a peculiar form of media-baiting.

Wrote the commentator, "It started when, as some vaguely weird joke designed to shock a few football players, Laettner walked around holding hands with a fellow freshman.

"'Then it spread because of jealousy,' Laettner says. 'Look, it made me seem mysterious, and I don't mind that. It made people think twice about me, and I don't mind that either,'" the posting continued.

The posting went on, "'Now Brian and I are supposed to be lovers. So we joke around with it.'

"It would have remained mere local badinage had not Davis been quoted in The New York Times last March as unabashedly proclaiming, 'the two most important things in my life are basketball and Christian.... We know we're not gay. We're so mature we know what being 'friends' is all about. We can tell each other we love each other,'" the commentator added.

"This, again, was simply an echo of Laettner," the posting went on, citing "a comment published in the Raleigh News and Observer-saying, 'I spend 95 percent of my time with Brian. I don't want anything else; I don't need anything else.... All I want to do is be with Brian.... That's it: basketball, school and Brian.'"

Duke's coach got the joke, even if others may have missed its mocking intent, the poster noted: "Krzyzewski laughingly perceived all of this as a kind of satirical gag on the media in the fashion of the Madonna-Sandra Bernhard late-night talk show stupid bimbo tricks. 'These two guys are about as secure in their sexuality as I can imagine,' he says."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.