Defusing a Potential Powderkeg

NC State's Scooter Sherrill learned an incredibly important lesson this past week. There's a very fine line between "humorous trash talking" and "potentially devastating PR blunder."

By now we all know the quote regarding Duke guard JJ Redick.

"You see him hit a 3, and he's running down the court hollering," Sherrill told reporters during a press conference regarding Redick's followthrough. "He's got his hand up like he's gay or something."

Um, oops.

For everyone associated with NC State basketball in that room that day, it must've been like seeing your best friend—the smart, shy one that nobody understands—trying to pick up a beautiful woman for the first time and failing miserably. Yeah, he's trying, but man it sure hurts to watch.

Sports Information Director Annabelle Vaughn tried to step in on Sherrill's behalf and deflect the ill-fated comment with a little humor, but by that point it was a too late. Sherrill was well on his way to getting his wish: a mountain's worth of bulletin board material.

Continues Sherrill: "No—put it out, put it out. I didn't say he was gay. I said 'like he's gay.' You know, you've seen him when he's like that. "I hope I can get in his head some. That's what I'm trying to do."

Sherrill gets plenty of points for trying to execute what seemed to be a fool-proof plan. Want to ire and irk your opponent? Compare him to heterosexual man's worst enemy: Gayman. Yes, Gayman, arch nemesis and evil cousin of Straightman. No male attempting to make a living in sports (straight, at least) would ever want to be thought of in the same light as Gayman (not that there's anything wrong with that). Certainly that will strike a nerve with Redick, right?

You can almost see the tense grin on Sherrill's face, trying to pull it off, like trying to ditch a 747 full of passengers in the ocean while telling everyone on board to remain calm. Sweat on the brow, flaps all shot to hell. One engine out, the other failing. The ocean rushing up at breakneck speed.

"In the event of a major faux pas, oxygen masks will drop down from the ceiling. Brace yourselves."

Like so many other oral blunders (see also, Howard Dean re: Confederate flags, screaming), this could've taken a severe turn for the worse. It wasn't a major slight against gays, with slurs and whatnot, but frankly it was bad enough. How bad? Well, it was bad enough to have the entire Wolfpack chain of command—Sendek, Fowler, Fox—all release public statements to the media apologizing to the gay and lesbian community. With the topic of gay marriage pushing gay rights to the forefront, it's safe to say that a jab involving gays couldn't have been timed any worse.

We'll never know what was said behind closed doors, but it's a good bet that Sherrill's ears are still ringing.

But there's a happy ending to this story, as we all know.

Instead of both camps volleying a barrage of attacks, with both Redick and Sherrill upping the ante with each successive attack, both players conducted themselves with class and decorum in the days leading to the game. Redick took it for what it was worth, an attempt to get inside his head and throw him off his game. In other words, he took it exactly how Sherrill had intended it in the first place. We can only hope that Sherrill learned trash talking is better left to those from Harlem, N.Y. who love to be hated instead of the nice guys from places like Mt. Ulla, N.C. So while the media salivated over the possibility of pre-game protests and on-the-court heated exchanges, two basketball players went about preparing and executing their gameplans in their own daytight compartments, if you will.

When it was all said and done, this powderkeg couldn't have fizzled more than Y2K. The two met before tip off and shook hands as a gesture of good sportsmanship. Redick then promptly set about scoring 28 points, most of them fall away threes right in Sherrill's grill.

While most 28-point performances would've screamed, "In your face, Sherrill!" this one was conveniently overshadowed by virtue of the solid win by the Wolfpack over the number one team in the country.

It's a hell of a lot easier to give up 28 points when you come out a winner, so for good measure Sherrill closed the book on this awkward chapter in the Duke-State rivalry by publicly apologizing during the postgame radio show to anyone he offended with his comments, giving praise and respect to Redick while saving his own face in owning up to an honest mistake. Sorry sports media. There was no taunting, there were no exchanges. No protests, fights or public letters of condemnation. The explosion that you expected when you closed your eyes and shoved your fingers in your ears never happened. It's time to crawl out of the bunker and go back to reporting life as we know it.

Remember that 747 that Sherrill was piloting earlier? We're happy to report that all 220 on board survived with only minor bumps and bruises. And more importantly, they're moving on with the rest of their lives as if none of it even happened in the first place.

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