Mixed Feelings About UNC Sports

By Mark West
Larry Little is an avid basketball fan in general, and a huge UNC Tarheel fan in particular. He has videos of UNC games dating from 1979. In October Of last year, Larry got a rare opportunity to visit the hallowed halls of UNCs home court, the Dean Smith center. I was with Larry on that occasion, and I witnessed the excitement of his thrill of a lifetime. Larry was as giddy as kid on Christmas morning. The pictures on the walls in the hallway of the Dean Smith center came to life for him. I, not being as big of a fan, was Larry’s classroom and he was the instructor.

He tells me about this guy and that guy. “This is Michael Jordan” he says, he played on the 1982 championship team. This one played in 1987, here’s Julius Peppers who now plays football for the Carolina Panthers, “He played both basketball and football for UNC in 2000” Larry says, and “UNC went to the final 4 that year, what a great athlete Julius Peppers is” he says. In the trophy room of the Dean Smith center is where Larry took over one hundred pictures of the history of UNC basketball, including pictures of the bust of the great Dean Smith himself.

Although Larry is still a fan of UNCs sports, and is proud of UNCs success in making it to basketballs NCAA tournament this year, and is cheering for them in the ACC tournament, the business of UNCs sports sponsorship has a bitter taste for him. You see the reason that Larry, a retiree with 32 years of service with Continental Tire in Charlotte, North Carolina, was visiting UNC in October of last year, was that he was part of a group of former Continental Tire employees, and retirees, that met with UNCs athletic director, and some of the UNC athletic department’s staff, to ask them to disassociate UNC with Continental Tire.

On September the 6th 2006, Continental Tire announced a sponsorship agreement between UNC and Continental Tire. Travis Roffler, Continental Tire’s Director of Marketing stated that the sponsorship of the UNC athletics program shows “Continental Tire’s commitment to the Carolinas, our dealers and their communities”. In July of 2006, Continental Tire laid off hundreds of Carolina workers, sent their jobs to cheap labor countries such as Brazil and Mexico, implemented a healthcare plan for retirees forcing them to either pay up to $1600 per month or lose their healthcare.

Larry, along with myself, a former Continental Tire employee, wonder how a company can put its retirees in such dire straits, and send jobs to Mexico and Brazil be committed to the Carolinas? Larry has visited UNC several times since that initial October visit. He hasn’t been inside the Dean Dome again, but has been on the outside with his fellow retirees and former co-workers passing out information at basketball games to fans, exposing the black eye on UNC.

Larry is torn between his passion for UNC and his misgivings about UNCs association with Continental Tire. He wonders if the basketball net that UNC just scored on is bought and paid for, at his and his fellow retiree’s expense. He wonders why a University will continue to accept sponsorship money from a corporation that misrepresents itself, and in essence is using the UNC Tarheels to bolster an untrue image on the backs of blue collar Carolinians. Larry simply asks why?

Mark West is a member of USW Local 850 and former CTNA employee. For more information on the Steelworker’s struggle at Continental Tire, check out www.SolidarityAtConti.org