Life Advice From the Former President of Duke


After Duke beat West Virginia to advance to the National Championship game, I approached our regulars with story ideas. Kentucky native and Wake Forest graduate Ethan Trex wasn't too keen on my first suggestion, "10 Things You Don't Know About Christian Laettner (But Should!)" Researchers Meg and Kathleen (UNC-Chapel Hill grads) didn't respond when I asked for help with a "Where Are They Now? Duke's 1991-1992 Championship Teams" post. And a freelancer tastelessly suggested we run a "Duke Backup or White Supremacist?" quiz.

Looks like I'm on my own.

I recently stumbled across this letter written by Duke President Terry Sanford during the 1983-84 basketball season. "Uncle Terry," as he was known, wasn't too happy about his school's reputation, so he asked students to consider changing their ways:


January 17, 1984

The enthusiasm of Duke students in Cameron Indoor Stadium during basketball games is legendary, especially at ACC games. That's great! It is as if we had a sixth man (maybe seventh, eighth, or tenth sometimes) playing on the floor.

But hold a minute — I have a reservation about all that. There is a recognizable line between enthusiasm and cheapness.

It is generally assumed that a person resorting in conversation to profanity and obscenities is short of an adequate vocabulary. That is doubly true in public utterances.

Resorting to the use of obscenities in cheers and chants at ball games indicates a lack of vocabulary, a lack of cleverness, a lack of ideas, a lack of class, and a lack of respect for other people. We are, I am sorry to report, gaining an unequaled reputation as a student body that doesn't have a touch of class.

I don't think we need to be crude and obscene to be effectively enthusiastic. We can cheer and taunt with style; that should be the Duke trademark. Crudeness, profanity, and cheapness should not be our reputation — but it is.

I suggest that we change. Talk this matter over in your various residential houses. Think of something clever but clean, devastating but decent, mean but wholesome, witty and forceful but G-rated for television, and try it at the next game.

We have too much going for us as an outstanding university to tolerate the reputation we now have for being so crude and inarticulate that we must resort to profanity and obscenities at ball games.

I hope you will discipline yourselves and your fellow students. This request is in keeping with my commitment to self-government for students. It should not be up to me to enforce proper behavior that signifies the intelligence of Duke students. You should do it. Reprove those who make us all look bad. Shape up your own language.

I hate for us to have the reputation of being stupid.

With best wishes.
Uncle Terry
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I have a feeling reaction will be split: Duke graduates will say the letter accurately reflects the creative-but-tasteful nature of the Cameron Crazies, while everyone else will argue Duke fans still have "the reputation of being stupid." It's Tastes Great/Less Filling all over again.

The mental_floss staff is evenly split into three groups: Duke graduates, people who hate Duke, and people with no interest in college athletics. I'm a proud member of Group A (class of '01), but very nervous about the feisty Butler Bulldogs. Enjoy the game!

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