Published: Feb 17, 2008 08:30 AM
Modified: Feb 17, 2008 08:30 AM
You're not allowed to run around in the middle of Franklin Street, and you certainly aren't allowed to build a bonfire there. You can't throw toilet paper into the trees, toss gallons of paint on the pavement or openly chug beer out in the street downtown.
Unless the Carolina men's basketball team has just won an especially big game. Then the police close off the street to traffic and take a hands-off approach to certain activities they normally would put a stop to.
Officers didn't give the UNC women's team that much latitude after one recent game, and some fans have cried foul.
The rivalry between Carolina and Duke is every bit as fierce in the women's game as it is among the men. So after No. 3-ranked UNC pulled off a big victory over the No. 11 Blue Devils, the team returned to Chapel Hill in a celebratory mood.
Coach Sylvia Hatchell had the team bus swing by downtown, and she and the Tar Heels disembarked and tossed a roll or two of toilet paper into the branches of a tree.
They did it in the spirit of fun that too often gets lost in the world of big-time college athletics. And as Franklin Street celebrations go, it was next to nothing.
But it was enough. The police gave Hatchell a verbal warning and told her and the players to clean up the mess.
Some fans have taken umbrage. The officers' response, they say, reflects a double standard. When the men win, the police tolerate and even abet public celebrations that include littering and worse; but when the women win, the police put a stern stop to any shenanigans.
What's with the unequal treatment?
The unspoken essence of the complaints is that the response was, in a word, sexist.
That's a stretch. Yes, it would have been a better call to let Hatchell and her team celebrate without interference. But we doubt the decision had anything to do with the gender of the team and everything to do with the nature of the situation. You can't compare a handful of people throwing paper with a crowd of 50,000. If tens of thousands of fans had poured into the streets after the women beat Duke, police would have responded exactly as they do when that happens after a men's game.
The Chapel Hill police handle those situations exceptionally well, with a balance of flexibility and firmness. They let fans enjoy themselves, but at the same time they monitor circumstances and focus on keeping everybody safe.
What really lies behind the complaints, we suspect, is frustration that the women's team attracts so little attention and support, relative to the men's team, that it was left to the players themselves to conduct their own celebration.
We wish it were otherwise. The Tar Heels (thank heaven, by the way, that they no longer go by "Lady Tar Heels") are among the very best in the land. They're athletic, explosive, talented and terrific fun to watch. If you haven't yet gone over to Carmichael Auditorium to see them play, do yourself a favor and go. You'll have a great time.
Hatchell's Tar Heels have nipped at the heels of the national championship the last few years. This year they are once again capable of winning it all. And if they do, we hope to see you on Franklin Street.
If you have a comment on today's editorial, please contact Dave Hart, associate editor, at 932-8744 or firstname.lastname@example.org