Thad: Farewell

After ten years of writing about Carolina basketball in print and on the Internet, I'm calling time and will be leaving the staff of Inside Carolina, effective this summer. (My final article, an overview of the 2004-05 season and its historic significance, appears in IC's national championship commemorative issue.)

I am making this decision now so as to be able to best focus on my responsibilities teaching social and political theory as a new assistant professor in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, starting this fall. Being a graduate student (as I have been for 8 of the past 10 years) gives one a lot of freedom and leeway to do crazy things like run off to basketball tournaments and write articles and books having (almost) nothing to do with one's academic work.

As a faculty member, however, I will be assuming a professional and ethical obligation to ensure that my students as well as my research and publishing activities have my fullest possible attention. This is a really exciting time for me, with both new demands and new opportunities, and I need to be able to jump into this new role with both feet.

It has been an incredible time to be writing about Carolina basketball.
Don't get me wrong -- I'll still be watching the games, hopefully going to a number of them, and will be weighing in on the message boards from time to time. Possibly, if Ben Sherman will let me, I might even get to cover an away game or two as a stringer every now and then. Looking farther down the road, I hope at some point to have time to do more writing on sports and sports-related issues. But my time as a regular or semi-regular commentator on the Carolina hoops scene is at an end, at least for the foreseeable future.

It has been an incredible time to be writing about Carolina basketball -- a decade that has seen four final fours, three coaching changes, lows on and off the court that no Carolina fan could ever have imagined, and most recently, of all things, a national championship. At the same time, we've seen the explosion of the Internet as both a new journalistic space and as a vehicle for fans to communicate with one another, a development that has both positive and negative aspects but in any case has been interesting.

Personally, it has been a thrill to have the opportunity to cover so many games, interview so many players, pose questions to Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge, Matt Doherty, and Roy Williams, and get a glimpse or two of the inner workings of the Carolina basketball program. It also has been a sheer delight to be able express my own passion for Carolina basketball through the written word and to share those words with readers over the years.

To subscribe to this latter logic of friendship, of course, runs against the grain of American sports culture -- but so does much else about the ethos of Carolina basketball.
Obviously the last ten years have seen many heated debates and controversies with respect to Carolina basketball, about issues both small and large. From the beginning I have tried to offer an interpretive framework in which to process the ongoing events in the life of the program, based around a few basic principles: That it is the experience of the student-athletes, not the pleasure derived by fans from winning or the glory accorded successful coaches, which is of highest value in college sports and Carolina basketball in particular; that what makes Carolina basketball so special and unique is the insistence that doing things and treating people the right way and successful achievement can and should go hand in hand; that non-participants (fans and journalists alike) will get the most out of being a fan when they accord fandom an appropriate, healthy place in their life; and that it should be possible for observers to treat the participants with respect and appreciation, even when painful events unfold and difficult things have to be said.

In particular, I strongly believe that the relationship between fans and college athletes should proceed not according to a logic of commodification, in which the fan "buys" a product and is entitled to a return, but rather a logic of friendship. Both logics allow for the legitimate expression of disappointment and dismay in the wake of losses and other setbacks. But whereas according to the logic of commodification, this often takes the form of being angry at the players or coaches who "owed me" more in the way of vicarious satisfaction, in the logic of friendship this takes the form of sharing the pain coaches and players themselves feel when they do not meet their own goals and dreams or live up to their own expectations. To subscribe to this latter logic of friendship, of course, runs against the grain of American sports culture -- but so does much else about the ethos of Carolina basketball established by Dean Smith and bequeathed to the present.

I am not now and never have been under any illusions that the interpretive framework I have brought to the table is or ever will be universally shared by Carolina fans. But through the feedback I have gotten from readers, including both people intimately involved in the program and people thousands of miles away, and in the course of researching the book More Than a Game, I have come to believe that the basic elements of this framework are not idiosyncratic at all, but are very widely shared within the Carolina basketball community.

With Roy Williams at the helm, I am fully confident that young fans just now falling in love with Carolina basketball will come in time to see why UNC hoops is, at its best, more than a game.
I certainly hope (and expect) that other writers informed by some or all of this view of Carolina basketball will come to the fore in the years to come and provide discussion of the game-to-game, month-to-month, season-to-season events of Carolina basketball with something of this big picture in mind, and with a willingness to speak straight from the heart. But the best teacher of this ethos is not any writer or commentator, but the day-to-day operation of the program itself, the example and tone set by its leadership, and the impact the program has on those whom it touches. With Roy Williams at the helm, I am fully confident that young fans just now falling in love with Carolina basketball will come in time to see why UNC hoops is, at its best, more than a game.

Thanks for reading and responding to my work, whether with praise or criticism. Thanks to colleagues past and present at Inside Carolina and over the years, especially David Eckoff (who roped me in to all this!), Ben Sherman, Michelle Hillison, J.B. Cissell, Tommy Ashley, Bob Heymann, Andrew Jones, Adam Lucas, Mike McCracken, Andy Britt, Jennifer Jordan Engel, Errol Somay, Ned Foster and Mark Simpson-Vos. Both IC and the UNC sports community is very fortunate to have its leading independent online venue in the hands of the good judgment and good journalistic sense of Ben Sherman, and IC is deeply indebted to the tireless, often thankless work over the years of J.B., Tommy, and Michelle, work they have performed with passion and integrity.

I never could have expected a journalistic ride as interesting and rewarding as the last 10 years that first time I stepped into a Carolina locker to interview players after a Blue-White game in Chapel Hill in November 1995.

That part of the ride is over. But my ride as fan and friend of the program will continue, for however long it takes to go from "Tar Heel bred" to "Tar Heel dead."

Ed. Note ---- While it is unfortunate for Inside Carolina and the entire Carolina fan base that Thad will no longer be offering his regular thoughts in the IC Magazine or at, we can't help but feel fortunate to have had the privilege to publish his work over the years. Thad's articles provided a perspective that uniquely combined a high level of analysis with an ability to always have his finger on the pulse of Tar Heel nation. It's been an absolute joy and honor to have been the home for Thad Williamson and we're excited for him as he becomes a full time college professor. We have no doubt he'll be a terrific success.

Inside Carolina won't be seeking a replacement for Thad's position because -- simply put – he's irreplaceable. And, of course, the door will always be open should he opt to contribute any columns or cover any games in the future.

On behalf of the entire staff: Thanks, Thad.

Thad Williamson is the author of More Than a Game: Why North Carolina Basketball Means So Much To So Many, available at For an archive of some of Thad's best articles over the past decade, head to the Thad Williamson Archive. You can email Thad at thwilliamson(nospam)

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