By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
October 14, 2022
The Raleigh News and Observer recently published an op-ed piece by one of its former columnists, Jim Jenkins, who is now retired. In his editorial, Jenkins extolled the wisdom and virtue of the late Bill Friday, the man who for thirty years was President of the UNC System and host of the popular PBS television broadcast, “North Carolina People.”
Jenkins noted that Wednesday, October 12, 2012, marked the 10th anniversary of Friday’s passing at 92. Jenkins wrote:
“Today, the university he shaped is struggling with a contentious General Assembly, with rivalries among its member institutions, and free speech issues at the core of what the UNC System is all about. More than one UNC System chancellor has quietly said to herself or himself, ‘I wish I could talk to Bill Friday….'”
Jenkins is right; Friday “had great persuasive powers and an ability to reason” with people. He was one of the legendary figures of North Carolina – someone whose life still commands tremendous respect.
“What would he [Friday] do in the midst of the turbulence now surrounding the UNC System?” asked Jenkins.
I have another question worthy of consideration. What would Bill Friday say today about the sports gambling measure the State Senate passed this year but the State House defeated by one vote?
Although my experiences with Friday were infrequent at best and mostly casual, I believe I know with some authority what he would say. He would say he was glad it was defeated and hoping it wouldn’t raise its ugly head again.
I met Bill Friday in 2001 as part of a coalition of non-profit groups known as “Concerned Citizens Against the Lottery.” Friday felt very strongly at that time that a legislative proposal for an Education Lottery should not succeed. He was willing to lend his voice in opposition to a state-operated lottery.
An April 15, 2000 edition of the N&O ran a short article about Friday’s opposition to the lottery. It read:
“If Bill Friday needed to be reminded of how revered he is as an elder statesman, he got it Tuesday when he spoke at the University Woman’s Club Spring Luncheon at the Governor’s Club in Chapel Hill.
“The 192 women attending listened while Friday spoke of the Chapel Hill he has known during the 50 years the club has been in existence. Friday was assistant dean of men at UNC-Chapel Hill, then served 30 years as president of the UNC system.
“He spoke of North Carolina’s support of the university but really got the crowd’s attention when he talked about a proposed state lottery for education – backed by both major Democratic candidates for Governor but opposed by the major Republican contenders.
“‘I sincerely hope that we do not now turn to a lottery for funding,’ Friday said. ‘It is a tax on disadvantaged people. I, for one, do not want my state…to say to our children: ‘Young people, we deeply regret that the only way we can finance your education is to resort to gambling and legalize a lottery.’
“The reaction of the group was as swift as it was enthusiastic: Club members rose quickly to their feet and gave a surprised Friday a spontaneous, sustained standing ovation. He choked up a bit in response.”
Friday’s tenure as president of the UNC System also had him addressing a sports gambling scandal that had seriously infected the integrity of college basketball at North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina.
Four players from NC State and two from UNC were paid by gamblers to “fix” a Dixie Classic game during the 1960-61 season. When the gamblers were unhappy about the point spread, they met the players from State outside of Reynold’s Coliseum, threatened their lives with guns, and demanded their money back.
Friday promptly ended the Dixie Classic and said it was necessary to protect lives. He earnestly warned sports gambling would encumber athletes with what he believed were incredible pressures and, with millions of dollars on the line, create enormous temptations for them.
On the PBS program, “NC Now,” Friday recollected that time in his career and said:
“Sport is a part of our culture. It’s very important to every American. I enjoy it as much as anybody, but you have to play within certain rules. You have to live within certain prescribed conditions, and I have found that people I have worked with, like Les Robinson and Dean Smith – all these people want to do the right thing. It’s the fan that’s got to stop and think now. What are we doing? Because if we demand too much these days – if we pressure too much – you can kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
It seems clear that Friday was against gambling, especially if it was connected to funding education or diminished the veracity of college sports.
Anyone who knows anything about the lottery also knows the perception is that it provides huge sums of money for education, but that’s only a perception. Actually, after the various reallocation of its funds lawmakers have made to the lottery over the years, the sum is only pittance.
UNC Charlotte education professor Walter Hart described it this way: “The lottery was sold as icing on the cake, and over time it’s become more and more of the cake.”
Moreover, if sports gambling is made legal in the Tar Heel state, it’s inevitable that the honesty of sports – its players – its referees – will be compromised. The game will no longer be about who wins on the court, but who wins off of it.
Yes, I think we can be confident that if Bill Friday were living today, he would provide wise counsel against the legalization of Sports Betting.