NCAA Tournament Spawns Social Media Movement

An Anonymous Tar Heel

In the land of social media, many of us spend our days trying to rack up numbers. Retweets, likes, views, shares, +1s. We all have our reasons, whether for business, ego or a mixture of both. That’s why what’s happening in Chapel Hill this week is a bit — different.

The creator of PassFir5t doesn’t want you to know who he is. No, he’s not one of those “Anonymous” kind of guys that’s threatened “cyber war.” This is quite the opposite. He’s a UNC student who wants to bring people together, while making someone else feel better. Sure it sounds corny, but in an internet full of snark and sarcasm (which I admittedly contribute to), it’s nice to see a story of social media being used for good.

Title Hopes Lost?

Courtesy: Getty Images

When UNC point guard Kendall Marshall was diagnosed with a broken wrist Sunday night, a good chunk of the team’s fan base reacted one way: “There go our national title hopes.”

Not only is Marshall the most vital piece of the top-seeded Tar Heels, but the sophomore was arguably playing the best basketball of his life. Now, with UNC playing its best basketball of the season and just four wins away from its third national title in eight seasons, hope appeared lost. And even though Marshall may play through the injury this coming weekend, this past Sunday night, many Tar Heel fans, and even many in the media, were nearly convinced of an inevitable, quick end.






Birth of a Social Media Movement

Despite some doubts that it would, the sun actually did come up Monday in Chapel Hill and emotions started to level a bit. Marshall had successful surgery and his dad texted a message of hope. That’s when one UNC student, our unnamed student, had an idea: start a movement.

It will never be confused with Martin Luther nailing his theses on a church door, but it’s an example of how fast an idea can travel in our social media world.

The idea? Scribble the number 5 on your wrist. Make sure it’s the right wrist — the one Marshall broke — and use his jersey number.








A Facebook page plus a Twitter account later, and hundreds of fans started posting and tweeting pictures of paint/ink/color tributes to their point guard. It wasn’t long before Marshall, who has one of the best online personalities in any sport, noticed.






What’s Next?

So where does the PassFir5t movement go from here? If UNC keeps winning with or without Marshall, you have to figure many more Tar Heel fans will be walking around with 5s on their wrists.

And how about the student who started it all? He’ll want some attention soon, right? Get interviewed by the student newspaper and the local tv stations? Shoot, maybe he could even get a quick mention on CBS.

Nope. For now he wants to stay behind the curtain. The furthest out I could bring him was to answer an email with ten questions — snark-free.


Email Interview with………? (The PASSFIR5T creator)

1. Why do you want to remain anonymous?

We feel it’s for the betterment of the movement. This is something that we did not create but simply created an outlet for. PassFir5t was built by the fans and spread by the fans. At first the whole idea was to support Kendall through what obviously must be a tough time, but we also wanted to spread the idea of living life PassFir5t. Much like Kendall plays on the court putting his teammates before himself and always crediting them for his success, we want people to bond around the idea of being selfless and putting others before themselves. By remaining anonymous people don’t draw judgment to why we decided to do this, or that we are trying to gain fame from Kendall or his injury. The whole idea behind PassFir5t is simply promoting what we here in Chapel Hill call the Carolina Way. When people hear Dicky V or Jay Bilas say, “He’s a pass first point guard,” we want people to think past sports and think about life and what it actually means to be PassFir5t.

2. How did you come up with this idea?

I was sitting in class actually talking with Tyler Zeller. I asked him, “So are you going to play point guard on Friday?” As we all know, when Kendall went down with the injury every UNC fan was devastated, not only for the team, but for him because he was playing the best basketball of his college career. So as I was venturing around Facebook, I saw someone on the UNC meme page had decided to put the number 5 on their wrist. I thought this was pretty cool and decided lets see how many people we can get to do it. So we started the whole idea on Facebook. We decided to develop a group page for the idea and I had a couple of friends just start sending it out amongst all of their friends. After this didn’t work, I decided lets try twitter — It may be easier to spread the word about the movement. Then #PassFir5t was born. Like I did for Facebook, I sent out a couple of mentions of the group to some friends and told them to have their followers just click follow, just to build up the page. Then about 4pm I received the first picture of a fan doing “Passfir5t”. After that I took the photo and retweeted it amongst our 20 or so followers. Kendall saw it, what we were doing and retweeted the photo. The idea picked up steam from there and has yet to slow down.

3. When did you first think, ‘Wow, this is really catching on’?

When we reached around 500 people on twitter, but within an hour we had reached 700 followers and around 300 on facebook. I immediately called my friends over and told them, “We’ve got something BIG!”

4. What was it like when you saw Kendall retweeting the messages?

It was amazing to see Kendall responding and retweeting some of the messages. It really helped build up the momentum for the whole movement. This again is why we want to remain anonymous. This whole movement, it’s simply about supporting him and the team, not us.

5. What’s been the coolest moment for you so far?

Watching this whole thing grab momentum. Between the pictures and the different people willing to lend their different technical skills to help keep the movement going is great. We had people offering T-shirt designs, web designs, and we even had an older guy, maybe in his 70s at the sendoff for the team writing 5s on people’s wrists.

6. As of tonight (Wednesday) how many #passfirs5t pictures have you received?

We have received well over 600 pictures from fans and they keep rolling in by the second. We here at PassFir5t want to make sure that each fan knows that we see all the pictures and we want them to know they are not only a part of PassFir5t but they are PassFir5t.

7. What does this say about the UNC fan base?

One: That Carolina Fans love their sports, they support them 110%. But on a larger scale it shows that anyone that wears the Carolina blue — be it a mom or a toddler — they value the Carolina Way. Tar Heels are true passers and by that I mean they put others before themselves and are truly selfless. It doesn’t matter what the cause is — Be it supporting a player through an injury or raising money for illnesses (I.E. UNC Dance Marathon). You can count on the Carolina Family to have your back.

8. How about the power of social media?

It simply shows that Social Media is a true power that can not only be used for evil but for good. It’s a great way to spread a cause or simply get in touch with old friends. Some cool things we’ve seen so far with the PassFir5t movement has been seeing fans from all over the world show their undying love and Carolina spirit. Within the days we’ve been active, we’ve even seen long lost friends reunited because they noticed that they had posted PassFir5t pictures.

9. Can you at least tell us if you’re one person or a group? Are you a guy(s) or girl(s)? Are you UNC student(s) or not?

Right now I am one person and I am a student here at UNC at Kenan-Flagler Business School. However I am slowly recruiting new member to the PassFir5t team. Again, what makes it really easy is that all the fans of the movement keep it going. They create the pages, they post the photos, they create the sites, they spread the word. It’s just my job to make sure they have the means to do it.

10. Will you reveal who you are after the tournament or is this a lifelong secret sort of thing?

We’ll see what happens. Right now we’re here to support Kendall and the Tar Heels. #PASSFIR5T


PASSFIR5T Galleries

For a collection of PASSFIR5T images, check out:

The Daily Tar Heel Storify

PASSFIR5T Facebook

@PASSFIR5T Twitter

PASSFIR5T Pinterest

Oh and one more thing, this tweet from Marshall Wednesday night:









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