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Jalen Rose on Duke’s Black Players

It seems every day there’s a topic that has my timeline jumping. Tuesday morning there were still smatterings of conversation about CryGate 2011 but the big topic of conversation was Jalen Rose and his controversial remarks regarding Duke basketball’s recruiting habits. Rose, in his soon to be released documentary, remarks that he has a personal hatred for Duke, that he hated everything he felt Duke stood for. He continues by saying that he felt that schools like Duke “only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.”

The comment, started an intense debate about the perceived racism at the root of the fact that Duke only recruits black players from polished families. Those who have always questioned Coach K’s tactics rode the comment to the moon and back. And my fellow Duke alumni and supporters offered their retorts and expressed their dismay at the reactions of their followers.  Rose’s comment, and the conversation that followed was interesting, and in some ways sad.

The ideas expressed by and contained by the quote and the barrage of comments that followed are not new to our community, namely that academic achievement makes one “less Black” and the never-ending debate about how one’s blackness is lessened or damaged by attending a predominately white institution. In that way it was sad to me. It’s 2011 and a prominent black man (not to mention half of the Black sports fans on twitter) is still discussing the fact that blacks who are “accomplished” are Uncle Toms.

To be clear, I don’t take for granted the perspective Jalen Rose must have of the situation. Here he is, a member of the famed Fab Five, a group of young players who are credited with marrying the worlds of hip-hop and basketball with their baggy shorts and overall style of play. Their style was juxtaposed with the fundamental play of the Duke Blue Devils in the 1992 NCAA tournament. The loss, coupled with the feeling that he was overlooked by Duke and other schools like it, must play a part in his view of the university.

Many are attributing his youth at the time to his feeling that Duke’s black players were Uncle Toms but even that is problematic and just another sign that we need to work harder to show our children that academic achievement is not an affront to our blackness.

I won’t give any credence to the idea that Duke only recruits Uncle Toms by listing our Black players. I also won’t say that I haven’t ever considered the racial makeup of our basketball team. I will say that the comment is troublesome to me because of the feelings behind it.