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How the ’Hoos of Charlottesville could help heal their city

March Madness ended Monday with the University of Virginia Cavaliers cutting down the nets in Minneapolis after defeating Texas Tech. For the new champions of NCAA men's basketball, the victory represents a team's redemption and a city's recovery, coming a year and a half after the tragic Charlottesville riots. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    March Madness ended last night, in early April, and it was the University of Virginia Cavaliers, known as the Hoos, cutting down the nets in Minneapolis, who were crowned NCAA men's basketball champions.

    As William Brangham will show you now, it is a story of redemption for the team and of joy for the city of Charlottesville, which had become accustomed to shock and sadness.

  • William Brangham:

    One year ago, the University of Virginia suffered perhaps the most shocking loss in NCAA Tournament history. They were the first number one seed to ever to lose in the first round to a 16 seed, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

    Fast-forward to this year, and their heart-stopping, death-defying run through the tournament and to last night's victory.

    For the city of Charlottesville, of course, which became synonymous for the 2017 white supremacist riot that ended in the death of a counterprotester, it's, of course, a moment to savor.

    To talk about all this, I'm joined via Skype by Siva Vaidhyanathan. He's a professor of media studies at the university.

    Professor, congratulations on last night.

    And I wonder if you could just give us a sense, what was Charlottesville like last night and today?

  • Siva Vaidhyanathan:

    Yes.

    So, you know, last night, the university grounds, which is what we call the campus, filled up with the most joyful noises. You had people of all ages, mostly students, yelling and singing, singing, "We are the champions," and really releasing a tremendous amount of good feeling, a tremendous amount of stress that had been built up, stress not only from a series of very close games in the tournament, but stress from being under this tremendous spotlight that Charlottesville and the university have been under for most of the last decade.

    I have lived in Charlottesville for almost 12 years now, and we have not gone 18 months without some sort of stress or trauma. And to have this moment where our streets are filled with joy, rather than anger and hatred, where the lawn that Thomas Jefferson designed, and, by the way, just a few days before his birthday, was filled with singing and chanting and a rush of good feeling and community, it made such a difference.

    So having this moment of joy was so energetic and so refreshing, and I can't thank the team enough for giving us that opportunity.

  • William Brangham:

    That's really a — it's a terrific image that you're painting there.

    Just speaking of the basketball itself, the tournament itself, it wasn't at all clear that you guys were going to make it. And certainly even last night, it wasn't at all clear that you guys were going to win that game.

  • Siva Vaidhyanathan:

    Yes.

    So, last year, right, the last NCAA Tournament we played in, the University of Virginia was a number one seed and suffered the greatest upset in the history of college basketball. This season, the team started on a mission, and the fans were completely behind them on that.

    We were not going to forget the pain of last year. The team wasn't going to forget the pain of last year. Everybody was going to build on the lessons and work beyond it. And that showed.

    And, you know, the players and the coaches, they never ignored the pain of last year. They focused on moving beyond it and learning from all of that difficulty. And that's the sort of lesson that became really clear to everybody in the community.

    And as someone who teaches young people, I think that that is a more important lesson than anything that I could teach them in class.

  • William Brangham:

    You touched on this a little bit before, but I wonder, what is your sense of the long-term implication of this?

    Is this a small victory that Charlottesville puts in its rear-view mirror, or do you think this is part of the healing process?

  • Siva Vaidhyanathan:

    I think this victory will be among the great moments in Charlottesville history as we look back, but it will not — it will not wipe out the tremendous pain, the tremendous violence that has built Charlottesville, that has built Virginia, that has built the United States of America, right?

    Those are still with us. Those are still strong in people's memories. Those are still marked in our streets. And if we are a responsible community, we will never forget that stuff. If we're a responsible community, we will be able to put this in perspective, put this moment of joy in perspective.

    And remember that if we have these occasional moments where we can come together and recognize that we're part of a community, and recognize that we're part of humanity, that gives us a little lift, but it doesn't solve the big problems.

    But let me tell you, Charlottesville, like every other community in America, has a tremendous amount of work to do. For the university, this victory will be tremendously important.

  • William Brangham:

    All right.

    Siva Vaidhyanathan, congratulations to you. And thanks again for your time.

  • Siva Vaidhyanathan:

    Thank you. Wahoowa.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And congratulations, a victory on so many levels.

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