We've taken some time off from the Authors With Pure Hearts series, but we gleefully return with Will Blythe's To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever, a hysterical, slightly crazed book about what it means to hate so much that it becomes purifying. In the case of Blythe, born and bred in North Carolina, the target of that hate is one we can all understand: Duke.
Blythe follows his beloved Tar Heels around during what would become their championship season and ends up spending time in the enemy camp — even talking to the Evil Mastermind himself, Coach K. (He makes him cry. Really.) It's an impartial, greatly amusing and kinda sweet screed about what it means to be a fan and why, in the end, having someone (like Duke) to personify all the hatred you have inside is, well ... healthy.
After the jump, Blythe talks about his book, why sportswriting is a horrible profession and where he'll be watching this Saturday's big Duke-UNC game.
First off, it's frustrating to us that the big moment at the end of your book involves North Carolina winning the national championship ... over our Illini. You Chapel Hill people get great teams every five years or so, but we Illini usually just stumble across one every 20. It seems unfair.
You gotta enjoy them while you can. I think Illinois' big men are actually better this year than they were last year, though. (James Augustine) has really brought it up a level.
Yeah, yeah. First off, you talk a lot in the book about the difference between your "journalist" side — the one that wants to be "fair" — and the "beast" side, which just wants to see Duke destroyed and the entire team ripped to shreds. We kind of think the "journalist" side of people is less honest the "beast" side, and that the reason a lot of mainstream sportswriting is so bloodless and bland is because reporters spend so much time pretending to be "impartial" that they lose the "beast" fan side ... and end up just thinking of sports as some job — one they ultimately hate. Did you find it jarring, as essentially a rabid fan, to cover last year
s team alongside mainstream beat reporters who are so caught up in their own ways?
When I was a kid, I thought, "Oh, what a great thing to be a beat writer." Once I spent some time with some of these beat reporters, I thought this has to be the saddest job next to being, like, a street sweeper or something. It
s worse. They may deep down have partisan allegiances, but to see them, they seem — in general — really sour-spirited about sports. I was there more as like a hobbyist, which is the way I like to cover things anyway. You can look at things in a way that, when it
s your profession to cover all these games, seem to fall off your radar screen. You know, in the '60s, when you had these guys coming in covering the act of covering politics, you saw a real breakthrough in political journalism. I felt that way a little bit doing this, like I was lucky to be able to trespass through all these different zones.
It seems like a lot of mainstream sports journalism is set up to make the reporter not enjoy sports anymore.
Exactly. A lot of mainstream sports journalism these days are business stories. I used to turn to the sports pages because I didn't want to read the business pages. A lot of the time now, the stories feel very similar.
Let's look at Duke. You
re obviously a North Carolina fan, so you
re programmed to hate Duke. But these days, everybody hates Duke. Do you think it's just because they've been successful?
In the '80s, for some strange reason, there was a brief moment where Duke was America's Team. In the book, I compare them to a boy band. They were sort of well-scrubbed, cute guys — if you can call Jay Bilas and those guys cute. Somehow over the next 10 years, they became America's most hated team. It was fascinating, and very gratifying to see.
I asked Coach K when I saw him [for the book] why he thought Duke was America
s most hated team. Initially, he parried the questions, but finally he said it was because Duke won a lot, and anytime someone wins a lot, they become hated. But I don't think that's it; there's a lot of teams out there that win a lot.
I think it's that Duke has become the embodiment of a public relations team. Duke's rise happened to coincide with the rise of cable TV, the rise of ESPN and in particular Dick Vitale, who is the ultimate frontrunner. People began to take umbrage with the way the media had this reflexive description of "Duke is the preeminent program that is both academic and successful in basketball." They started talking about the Duke players as if these guys were all young philosophers from 5th Century Athens. And they were just basketball players. People sensed the disconnect between that perception and reality, and it got on people's nerves.
One of the things we love about doing this site is that we don
t actually have to talk to athletes, who, on the whole — with exceptions of course — are boring and risk-averse. It allows us to be honest about our lack of impartiality. But as a Duke hater, you actually went and talked to Coach K and some of their players, seeing them as humans. Was that hard to jive that with the hatred of them you write about so fluently?
That's a great advantage of your site. That way you can say whatever you wish and you don
t have to listen to the same answers over and over.
I interviewed Coach K for about two hours. I hated the guy. Hated him, based on screaming at him through the TV for 25 years. So I got really nervous going to interview him, not because I thought he'd detect that I hated him — though I thought he might — but because, well, what if I liked him? That would really screw up this enjoyable pastime for me. Talking to him, it humanized him to some extent, but still, he came across as the type of guy who stalks the sidelines and screams at refs. I went in there and had my encounter, and it briefly softened my view of him. But now, having been out of there for a few months, I find myself completely reverting to form and hating him again.
But yeah. You see beat reporters, and they'll write something that's controversial, or even slightly edgy, and suddenly access becomes a problem. It's a weird circle.
Where you watching the game this Saturday?
I'll end up watching with my mother at her house. My mother and I still talk after every game. In a way, she
s kind of the hero of the book. I somehow feel that her journey to this kind of fandom is pretty extraordinary, and her passion is refreshing.
You can guy the book at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com.