Duke and North Carolina’s basketball programs have become more entangled with presidential politics than perhaps any of their competitors. Reggie Love, a former Blue Devil walk-on, is Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s bodyman, and last year, Obama ran in a five-on-five scrimmage with the Tar Heels, astutely observing that the players on this year’s preseason No. 1 were “a lot better” than him. Lest you think Obama has an unbreakable allegiance to the Tar Heels, he did ball wtih former Duke point guard Chris Duhon and 6-foot-7 former Duke center Alison Bales last year.
And now we can add this curveball to the equation: legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith and his wife, Linnea, endorsed Obama in an e-mail sent to Obama supporters Monday morning. (E-mail after the jump.) Apologies for mixing sports metaphors. Further apologies for cliched metaphors.
Most college basketball fans know that Smith and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski were never the best of friends. Smith represented the old guard, and Krzyzewski the new. And even though Krzyzewski seems more like Smith every day (a column for another day), it’s clear that they would still trade barbs on political issues. In 2002, Krzyzewski hosted a fundraiser for Republican Senate nominee Elizabeth Dole at the Washington Duke Inn on campus, inciting a swarm of unexpected and primarily negative media attention. What’s more, the event was dubbed “Blue Devils For Dole” and the invitations were sent to an undisclosed list of recipients, prompting accusations of University endorsements. (Former New York Times columnist Selena Roberts penned a witty column off the controversy four years before she failed miserably in covering another.)
Smith has made his move, supporting the increasingly popular candidate in this state that has swung from Republican stronghold to battleground to leaning Democratic in the past year. It’s not likely that Krzyzewski supports the same candidate. But will he endorse Republican presidential nominee John McCain? Given the ensuing firestorm the last time he made a political move, we don’t think so. Then again, his national profile has never been higher having led Team USA to a gold medal in August.
Moreover, should Krzyzewski publicly endorse? That is, is it the role of a college basketball coach to send out an e-mail to an (undisclosed) list of political supporters? (We must note that there is a difference between Smith and Krzyzewski; one is employed by a university, the other is not.) Professors are free to make their views public, and some are actively engaged in the local political scene. Then again, Krzyzewski is in a different position than your average tenured English professor. It is possible, after all, to associate his endorsement with that of the University–which is the exact reason Duke President Richard Brodhead has abstained from commenting publicly on the historic race.
It’s certainly something worth asking Krzyzewski at his first press conference of the season Friday. After all, the difference between Smith and Krzyzewski has has once again proven to be more than just a slight shade of blue.
–by Ben Cohen
Dean Smith E-mail, 10/13/08
There is a point in every contest when sitting on the sidelines is not an option. That is why Linnea and I are writing to urge you to join Barack Obama’s campaign for President.
There are pivotal moments in history when the right decision by a nation can change its course for the better — opening up new paths before us and providing future generations with opportunities that we had not thought possible. This coming election provides one of those moments. Linnea and I believe Barack Obama is the right leader at this critical juncture. I have written that when coaching a team, you must be prepared to make changes to meet new challenges and obstacles. We must be prepared to do the same as a nation. Now, it is the United States that needs a change in direction… and a change in leadership.
Join Barack Obama today by volunteering in your corner of North Carolina.
Linnea and I respect all that Senator McCain has done for our country. However, we feel strongly that it is Barack Obama who offers the real leadership our nation needs to tap its potential as a land of opportunity — even as we face difficult times at home and abroad. Senator Obama is a patriotic American, a committed Christian, a good family man, and a man who shares the bedrock values that most North Carolinians have in common: fairness, hard work, respect for others, and personal responsibility. And he has the vision and judgment to help us push through this period of uncertainty to a time of greater economic stability and greater security from threats abroad.
If you believe America needs to set a new course, then the time to join us is now. If you are already an Obama supporter, please step up to help our campaign. There are only about three weeks left before Election Day, and if we are going to move away from the failed policies of the past, then we need your help now.
So we encourage you to get out there and get involved — talk to your neighbors and sign up to volunteer today.
Get involved now:
And pass this email along to those you think might be interested. This election is too important to stand on the sidelines and watch history pass us by.
Coach Dean Smith and Linnea Smith
Chapel Hill, NC