March Madness: If You Root Against Kansas, You Root Against America

Why NCAA basketball fans should love the KU team, instead of loving to hate it


Reuters/Bill Waugh

If you follow college basketball, you may well hate the University of Kansas. Jeremy Stahl certainly does. Writing in Slate's annual NCAA tournament "Teams We Hate" feature, Stahl called the Jayhawks "odious" and "contemptible."

No big shock. Kansas—along with North Carolina, Kentucky, and Duke—is one of those teams that fans love to hate, like the Yankees, the Lakers, or Dallas Cowboys. KU is a high-dollar, high-pressure program, perennially in the top 20, usually in the top five, and always a threat to make the Final Four. Of course people root against the Jayhawks. Tonight, for example. Unless, like President Obama, you picked KU to win the National Championship, you will probably cheer against the Jayhawks tonight as they take on 12th-seeded Richmond. That's only natural. As Kansas alum Wilt Chamberlain once famously said, "Nobody roots for Goliath."

In this case though, that's a real shame. It's shame because hating on the Jayhawks means you hate the United States of America. Yes, you read that right.

The Jayhawk, a mythical mix of a blue jay's cunning with the ferocity of a hawk, was born in pre-Civil war era "Bleeding Kansas," when the strange bird was adopted as the mascot of abolitionist forces fighting for Kansas to enter the Union as free state. The Jayhawkers battled with Border Ruffians, many from Missouri, who wanted to bring slavery into the new territory, and who ultimately sparked a horrific, bloody war of secession. Surely, it's more than mere coincidence that the pro-Union Jayhawks must face a team from the old capital of the Confederacy tonight, and could face another on Sunday.

If you root against KU basketball, then, you are actually rooting for slavery. You're supporting the Confederacy over United States, cheering for racism, oppression, and war, and, not for nothing, you want President Obama to fail—all of which are certainly "odious" and "contemptible" by any reasonable definitions.

Or maybe Stahl just hates sports history.

Kansas basketball, certainly, has a history as rich as any team in the country, no matter what the sport, at any level of college or the pros. The first coach of KU basketball, after all, was the first coach of any basketball team, anywhere, ever. James A. Naismith brought his newly-invented sport to Lawrence in 1898, coaching for seven years before handing the reins to his heir and greatest pupil, Forrest C. "Phog" Allen.

Allen essentially created the game of basketball as we know it. He streamlined Naismith's invention, creating a sleeker, faster sport, and he founded, through sheer force of his will, many of the college basketball institutions and traditions people like Jeremy Stahl enjoy today. For just a hint of Allen's enormous influence, consider the history of two other college programs, North Carolina and Kentucky.

Both schools, as Stahl probably knows, play in buildings named for their greatest coaches. Just as KU plays in Allen Field House, the Kentucky Wildcats plays in Rupp Area, named after Adolph Rupp, while North Carolina's Tarheels play in a dome named for the legendary Dean Smith.

Does Jeremy Stahl also know, however, that Rupp and Smith both played college ball, and learned coaching, under Phog Allen at Kansas? Because they did.

Allen also was the driving force behind basketball being made an Olympic event. Without that 1936 milestone, the game would never have gone global, there would never have been any Dream Teams, and today there wouldn't be dozens of international players spicing up the NBA. If, Lord forbid, Phog Allen had never lived, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol would be playing soccer right now. While Yao Ming, meanwhile, would just be some very tall poor guy in China.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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