Chris Matthews – who I quite like despite myself – said something very interesting on the last episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. They were discussing the hideousness of the Penn State scandal, and how Mike McQueary’s response to seeing a 10-year-old being raped was unfathomably inept, when Matthews said:
“When you join an organization, you gotta have your values before you walk into the door. You gotta know what’s wrong and what’s right. Because they’re not going to teach you there. [McQueary’s] first instinct was ‘My God, this is horrible, I can’t believe I’m seeing it’ and then he allowed himself to be propagandized into the system… You never ask a system to teach you values, because the values of a system is always the cover-up.”
I’d never thought about the world of cabals in quite that way, and while it seems logical that any major cultural or tribal organization makes its own survival the top priority, it didn’t ring true for me personally.
Was it because I eschewed (or made fun of) those old-boy networks my entire life? Or because I always seemed to join organizations that distinctly lacked the lockstep unity that guaranteed its vitality (Democrats, my fraternity)? And then it hit me: the reason the Penn State scandal feels so foreign is because I, too, am a ravenous member of a college sports cabal, but instinctively believe such a thing wouldn’t happen in Chapel Hill.
I know this makes me sound like every other dreamy-eyed fanboy lulled into fascist hegemony by a winning program and skimpy cheerleading outfits, but for better or worse, we have always done things the right way at UNC, largely because of the genius of two men: Frank Porter Graham and Dean Smith. I won’t wax deuteranopic about how they helped make the University color-blind, how they made us the shining Light on the Hill, because I don’t need to.
Many other universities and hallowed organizations have collapsed from the pockmarks of institutional rot, but we have not. Say what you want about our new Chancellor, but when things began to smell bad in the football program, he put a period on it. There are still crazed fans who want our old coach back, but hopefully Penn State can teach these people what happens when small infractions go unchecked over time, where a cult of both personality and sport combine to give protection to a sadistic fuck.
Chris Matthews may be right about most systems, but he’s wrong about mine: the Carolina Way did teach me certain values: playing hard, smart and together; thanking the ones who made things possible; and above all, excellence in pursuits both physical and intellectual. Many of us didn’t have those coming in – I, for one, was just a befuddled zork.
One of my favorite Michael Stipe lyrics is “Here’s a truck stop instead of St. Peter’s,” which is how I feel about Carolina Basketball. It might be a weird religion, and my Sistine Chapel may be a massive octagon that vends Beefmaster Franks, but I’ll never want for direction.