The 104,000-plus at The Shoe arrive early and leave late. We are a football state. And we are a band state.
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Jim Tressel raised that national championship trophy over his head in early January, 2003, and said, “We’ve always had the best damn band in the land. Now we’ve got the best damn team in the land.”
So it’s not even a chicken-or-the-egg question. Before Paul Brown, before Woody, before Tress, there was the Ohio State University Marching Band, TBDBITL.
Thus, we arrive early for the skull session, then fill the stadium in time for the ramp entrance, the “Buckeye Battle Cry,” Script Ohio, sway to “Hang on Sloopy,” and when the game is over we stick around and end our day with “Buckeye Swag,” and “Carmen Ohio.”
The latter is among the most beautiful of alma maters and after the band’s spine-tingling, reverent musical introduction, when it’s time to sing along, the director turns on his perch and leads not his musicians, but us. Alumnus or not, it is our state, our song, and we are accompanied by our band.
We sing only the first verse of “Carmen Ohio,” and many of us might figure that’s it. But there are two more. One line of the second verse, in reference to the university, says it is “Of fair repute and spotless fame.”
And, so, we have a problem.
It turns out our band was neither.
The university conducted a two-month Title IX investigation, stemming from a parental complaint into the band’s culture and then fired the director, Jon Waters.
The investigation found a sexualized culture of rituals and deemed that Waters knew, or should have known, about an “environment conducive to sexual harassment.”
So the board of trustees, who might have known better, and a new president, who did not, fired Waters. Apparently, the new guy never heard the story about E. Gordon Gee hoping Tressel didn’t fire him.
And the state is up in arms. There’s plenty to debate — insufficient public school funding, job growth, crime, all the usual political swill. Heck, some days you can’t even drink the water. But our debate is over our band. Some are withholding financial support; thousands have signed petitions demanding Waters’ reinstatement. Drive, drive on down the field!
The investigative report outlined behavior that was lewd, lascivious, salacious, and downright smutty.
The band, as another writer put it, is a “de facto coed fraternity” that lives, works, studies, and plays together 24/7. And, regardless of age, many of us can remember how we lived and played in college.
Rookies get a nickname, often sexual in nature, and experience hazing rituals that are occasionally hands-on, if you catch my drift. There was an annual night practice under the lights in Ohio Stadium that, apparently, was clothing optional. And those who opted for clothing dressed, well, lightly.
This has been going on for years, long before Waters was director, interim director, assistant director, grad assistant, or I-dotting member. To many, the man who blended OSU tradition with innovation is a scapegoat.
That’s what Alexandra Clark wrote in an open letter. She was a band member from 2009-11 and was given the nickname Jewoobs — which had to do with being Jewish and large breasted — that eventually was shortened to Joobs. She says she liked the nickname and never felt sexually disparaged by it until it was mentioned in the investigative report.
“The university’s decision to make [Waters] a scapegoat at this time for things that have been going on for decades, which he worked hard to change, is absolutely incomprehensible and unjust,” she wrote.
The band’s powerful alumni association agrees. And that brings to mind this question: This has been going on for years, with hundreds and hundreds of band members cycled through, and no one has ever complained before?
But somebody finally did. Waters’ claim that he was trying to change the culture was too little and too late.
“The best and most permanent change occurs from within the organization,” he said.
My translation: He was encouraging the band’s leaders to clean up their act more so than forcing it himself.
Waters, a son of northwest Ohio from Elmore, has considerable support, but it won’t matter. The instant the Title IX investigation began, he was cooked. Scapegoat or not, in a society of litigation and an era of federal oversight, Ohio State’s decision to cut and run from its band director was the obvious one.
OSU may not have heard the last from Waters, but we’ve seen the last of him on the director’s stand. Our band, TBDBITL, is no longer his band.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.