19 September 2016
With all the talk about universities, political correctness, and trigger warnings, I’ve been chafing to write something/anything on this subject, but knew I’d only get myself into trouble with my pro-Northwestern University, “suck it up, buttercup” stance. Then my alma mater Rice University played football against Baylor University last Friday, and I found a way in.
First, some background details.
As a freshman in 1983, with no band experience, I joined the Rice University Marching Owl Band (aka The MOB). Rice’s band went rogue a decade before my arrival and, in one infamous 1973 incident, ended up cornered in a tunnel by Texas A&M cadets. Notorious for making social and political statements, the MOB performs halftimes scatter-style, with skewering voice-overs, formations, and songs designed to drive home a message. As a “show assistant,” I did everything from creating props and positioning them during halftime to wearing costumes and filling out formations. For one A&M halftime, I dressed up as a cadet, marched around the field like a Nazi-ish goose-stepping Benny Hill, and then “roped” UT’s mascot. The whole time, I expected to be attacked on the sidelines. (I was not.)
In short, Baylor University could not possibly have expected to go unscathed during halftime last Friday night.
What did Baylor do to earn the MOB’s scorn? For years that university covered for several football players who were involved in multiple sexual assaults and cases of domestic violence. The cover-up extended from the Waco Police Department to the football coach, Art Briles, to the university president, Ken Starr. Yes, that Ken Starr. Baylor also took three years to hire a full time Title IX coordinator to deal with these kinds of allegations. When everything came to light in May of this year, both Starr and Briles were summarily let go. In an unforeseen coincidence, Briles turned up at the Rice-Baylor game and was greeted by Baylor fans with a standing ovation.
Let’s stop to absorb that scene for a moment. Briles, who knowingly protected several violent players during his eight year tenure—placing their value higher than the women they assaulted—is still viewed by Baylor fans as a hero.
The Rice MOB stepped onto the field and presented a relatively mild show. It had a Muppet Show theme, with the number NINE as the day’s number. Nine for the correct number of Supreme Court Justices, during which they played “99 Red Balloons” and formed an IX on the field. Next they announced the quote of the day, courtesy of Clinton prosecutor and former Baylor president Ken Starr: “I did not investigate that coach.” As they played “Hit the Road,” they formed a star. They ended the show with an insult to the intelligence of Baylor students (which is par for the course).
Facebook and other media lit up with outrage from Baylor supporters, calling Rice rude to its guests and ripping the MOB for making light of sexual assault. The story hit the national Saturday morning news circuit. Eventually, Rice University issued a (mostly) supportive statement of the MOB and its intention to satirize Baylor’s administration, though it ended with the line, “it is apparent from the comments of many spectators and Baylor fans that the MOB’s effort went too far.”
Nudged under the political correctness bus by its own administration, the student body and most Rice alumni took umbrage.
Because not only has the MOB been insulting opponents for 46 years, but nothing in the show made light of sexual assault. Rice’s band reamed Baylor University’s administration for silencing the voices of its victims. What’s wrong with that? Who else was going to stand up for those women, if not the very institution they paid to hone their minds? In an era when speech sensitivity has run amok, the Rice MOB halftime show stands as the new poster child for warped thinking.
Baylor was caught on the wrong side of history. Its fans were embarrassed to have the shameful memory brought up . . . although not embarrassed enough to refrain from cheering their beloved Coach Briles. An enabler, a law-breaker, and yet another good ol’ boy misogynist.
So who here actually owes a public apology?
As with all social progress, nothing can change until enough people get mad about the right issues. It’s hard to swallow shame, it’s hard to reshape a long-held false viewpoint, but we’ve got to if we want society to advance. We must think deeper before resorting to knee-jerk reactions. We must turn from those who represent the old ways. We must demand better from our communities and institutions of learning.
And we must shoulder the truth, no matter how much it hurts.
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