Ohio State University has fired the leader of its “Pride of the Buckeyes” marching band, which is one of the United States most respected college marching bands. The bandleader’s termination came after Ohio State became aware of an ingrained culture of sexual intimidation and harassment by members of the band.
The “Pride of the Buckeyes” is famous for its intricate formations and entertaining choreography, such as forming a moonwalking Michael Jackson, during Big Ten football games. Millions of people have watched online videos of their performances. The band of 225 students was given the nickname “The Best Damn Band in the Land” and had even appeared on an Apple commercial.
University officials were blindsided by the results of the investigation which detailed the sexual antics prevalent in the marching band. The query was the result of a complaint from a parent that was made two months ago. The complaint was met with swift action by Ohio State officials, who promised that the program would be reformed quickly. In addition, the University plans to participate in an independent investigation to be spearheaded by the former Ohio attorney general, Betty Montgomery.
Investigators with the university uncovered evidence that the band members promoted a “sexualized culture,” which resulted in inappropriate behavior. Officials believe that Jon Waters, 38, the recently fired band director, knew about the band’s antics and failed to mete out appropriate discipline or that he should at least have been aware that is was happening. In addition, Waters never attended anti-sexual harassment seminars suggested by the university after it was discovered that he had not taken the proper action to address a claim by a female band member that she had been sexually assaulted by a male band member.
Waters allowed that he had seen some of the inappropriate behavior which was uncovered during the investigation, and declared that in order to keep his position, he was amenable to making sweeping changes to the program, resulting in a new zero-tolerance policy issued two weeks ago. After two weeks, university officials unanimously decided to remove Waters from his position as band director.
His attorney, David Axelrod, told CBS News that a great deal of the behavior detailed in the report happened decades before Waters was hired as band director and breaking those long-held traditions could not be done quickly, although Waters had tried his “absolute best.” Both Waters and Axelrod admit to having been surprised at the university’s decision to oust Waters so quickly after the program changes were enacted.
The investigation into the Ohio State marching band found that band members had engaged in many sexually-oriented events. Members of the band felt pressured to be part of an underwear-only midnight march up the ramp to the stadium, which on one occasion resulted in a band member coming down with alcohol poisoning. After that occurred, Waters or other staff members began to attend the midnight practices.
New members of the band were given lewd nicknames, such as “Pat Fenis” and “Jiggy,” surveyed about their sexual histories, and were often enjoined to pose in sexually suggestive ways. Some new members were ordered to walk down the aisle of the marching band tour bus as other band members attempted to take off their clothing. The band also put together an alternate “unofficial” songbook with sexually-explicit lyrics.
Former band volunteer Pam Bork quit after one particularly booze-filled band trip after which Waters refused to punish the group. She reportedly said to Waters that “If I have to hear the word penis or vagina one more time, I’m going to scream.”
The investigation did find that on some occasions, Waters tried to restrain the band’s sexual behavior, as in 2011 when he punished a member of the band who used a sex-related nickname. A band newsletter that mocked a student was banned by the leader as well. Waters is receiving support from current and former Ohio State band members, many of whom feel that it is unfair of the university to punish him for a culture that existed before he took the position.
Ohio State University President Michael Drake gave a video statement to respond to the reports, in which he vowed to “make this a better and safer institution. And we begin today.” The Ohio State football season begins in only a few weeks, and the university plans to have an interim director appointed while they search for a permanent band leader.
By Jennifer Pfalz