Campaign for a tobacco-free sports section

by andybechtel

As the NCAA basketball tournament rolls on, I am seeing and hearing references to a place called Tobacco Road. Here are some recent examples:

  • Tobacco Road paves way for North Carolina’s championship bid (ESPN.com headline)
  • He didn’t want to be the next blue chip recruit to end up on Tobacco Road. (The Daily Trojan)
  • RALEIGH, N.C. — Georgetown received the full Tobacco Road treatment here Sunday in its most shocking boot from March Madness in more than 20 years. (Washington Post)
  • Coach Bob McKillop’s white house across the street still was festooned with toilet paper, which has become a tradition whenever schools down on Tobacco Road win a big game. (Daily News, New York)

On television, announcers such as Jim Nantz of CBS speak of “Tobacco Road” in dramatic tones, assigning some sort of mythic stature to the proceedings on the basketball court. Perhaps that is a reflection of the name’s literary roots.

Tobacco is certainly a significant part of North Carolina’s history, but its influence in the state has been waning for years. Nowadays, it isn’t easy to find a place to smoke on the campus of the state’s flagship university.

Changing times aside, my main problem with “Tobacco Road” is that I have never heard it used in real life. In casual conversation, no one has ever asked me: “Did you see the game last night? That’s how it goes on Tobacco Road.” And believe me, the topic of “the game last night” comes up a lot.

When I asked students in my editing classes this week whether they used “Tobacco Road” in conversation, they gave me puzzled looks and said no. Yet the Wikipedia entry for “Tobacco Road” claims that the term “is often used” in discussions of sports at four North Carolina universities: UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest. But “often used” by whom?

My hunch is that “Tobacco Road” is to North Carolina what “Big Easy” is to New Orleans: a term used by unwitting visitors and lazy reporters. I therefore nominate it for the list of words (seen here and here) to avoid this tournament season.

UPDATE: John Robinson of the News & Record kindly mentions this post and shares his “Tobacco Road” experience.

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