I'm a Duke Divinity student who is training to be a pastor. I'm in my third year in seminary here and have enjoyed nearly every moment of the Duke experience. The one part of my Duke experience that nuances a "normal" one however is that I spent the first two years living in Raleigh on State's campus. My wife just graduated with a Masters degree from State and we lived in a tiny apartment in the Alpha Sigma Phi house on Fraternity Court, right off of Western. So while I went to Duke and cheered for Duke, I also had/have a deep appreciation for the hospitality that NC State showed me over the past two years. Needless to say, anytime Duke plays State, I get excited.
I was on the front row of the band side in the graduate students section of Cameron last night. The room, as I'm sure you felt, was electric (more than I've seen it all season). I knew it would be; you all played well at PNC and it was time for us to prove who we were as a team. The Crazies were probably more excited for this game than the UNC game next week. Just imagine what the Miami game will feel like. I stood near the State bench last night and was stoked for a great game, even without Lorenzo Brown. I'm pretty familiar with State's players (and even commented to many of my friends last night about how cool it is to be that knowledgeable about the opposing team's players) but I was unfamiliar with you.
Let me say, man, you impressed. You played for 39 minutes of the game, had 13 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, and shot 5-5 from the line. And you play that consistently. You may not be the tallest guy on the court, but you're an incredible asset to NC State's team and you proved that last night.
Before every game, the Cameron Crazies pass out a "dirt sheet" on the other team. It has some general points about how to cheer and then a list of semi-true/completely fabricated facts about the opposing team's players. It's meant to inspire new and creative cheers from the Crazies. It's clever (they are Duke students after all), and they have fun making it. Mostly nothing comes from it except a few dumb cheers.
Speaking of those cheers, you heard them last night. At first it was "Bilbo Baggins," a semi-clever joke about your height. The next was, as clear as it was to me, "Past your bedtime." This cheer appeared on the White Board that the undergrad line monitors hold up during the game and it was hinted at on the "dirt sheet" passed around (the sheet warned the Crazies about confusing you with an "8-year-old"). Perhaps a few things ought to be said about this. Your height isn't something you chose, but you've done something amazing with it. You're playing with one of the top basketball programs in the country against some of the best teams and coaching in the country. We may make fun of your height during a free throw shot, but when you make it, and the next, and the next, you silence the Crazies just a little bit more.
The controversy last night was regarding that last cheer. Was it really "past your bedtime?" Or what is "How's your grandma?" From all reports I've read you were close to your grandmother. Very, very close. I want you to know how touching that was for me to read. I lost a grandmother to breast cancer but I never knew her (she passed away when my mother was young). In fact, last night, I was wearing a pink ribbon in honor of her; I never remove it from my Duke sweatshirt. My grandfather remarried though and I got a new grandmother. I consider her to be a real grandmother and she has never treated me like anything other than her real grandson. She means the world to me. The same is true of my blood grandmother on my dad's side. I've always been especially close to her, too. I am fortunate to still have both sets of my grandparents and while I often realize how much I am taking them for granted, I would be devastated to lose them.
When I heard the rumors that students were cheering "how's your grandma?" at you last night, I was appalled. I was in the room and didn't heard instead "past your bedtime" so I was at first appalled that we would be accused of something so heinous and secondarily I was appalled that that would even have been thought of. The Cameron Crazies are rude, obnoxious, loud, and annoying; no one in the country doubts that. And, when they're up against an opponent who took away our #1 ranking, they can get angry. But, anytime something even borderline offensive has been chanted, it has been squashed by line monitors, Cameron officials, and even Coach K. I heard "past your bedtime," but I obviously can't speak for every single Crazie in the room.
I read an article about you and your father talking about the incident. Your dad admits that he heard it from his seat. You admitted the same, but wished to move on and focus on how you played. I think that takes incredible courage to say, especially if you perceived any of our students being blatantly offensive toward you. You've shown your character now both on and off the court. For that, even with a loss last night, you should be congratulated.
Lastly, Tyler, I'd like to apologize. Even if it is how I perceive it and Duke fans are right to say that not a single soul chanted that horrible phrase last night and that the deafening reality of Cameron hindered a proper interpretation of what was chanted, you still perceived the Crazies as being that rude and offensive. This is something that Duke undergrads are often accused of (and it is usually a fair statement). Duke students, and I can speak from first hand experience, are often rude. They are often offensive. And in Cameron, there's not much to hold them back from being even worse. So, whether it was said or wasn't said doesn't matter. You perceived it as being said and I am sure, without a doubt, that it hurt your feelings deeper than any of us could ever imagine.
It is shameful and unacceptable. Whether it was the actual students' voices at work doing the hurtful thing or simply a perception about how low Duke fans could stoop, it's an unfortunate situation. From any angle it is sad, hurtful, and unacceptable. On behalf of the Duke family (and we often view ourselves as such), I profusely apologize. You played a heck of a game and that ought not be overshadowed (whether in the public media or in your heart) by how the Crazies acted. I am so very, very sorry.
Know that you're appreciated. Know that you're courageous. Know that our hearts, minds, and prayers are with you and your family in this time of sadness and loss. Know that even this Duke fan finds hope as he wades through Twitter and Facebook posts and sees the Duke students who say, "I didn't hear it, but if it was said, it's despicable." Know that you have friends only 25 miles away that care enough to realize how hurtful such a statement could have been.
I'd love to take you to lunch if you'd like to share the love Duke fans have in their heart for well-played basketball. It's on me. You pick the place.