Plenty of Baylor Bears fans were understandably outraged by Rice University’s marching-band halftime show lampooning Baylor University’s ongoing scandal over Title IX issues. After all, some Baylor rape victims reportedly faced administrative indifference; Baylor’s president and head football coach were dispatched amid protests for and against them; and questions loom over BU regents’ oversight.
And so how did Rice react during Friday’s nonconference game in Houston? The famous Marching Owl Band twisted the knife in a very unfunny saga that for months has sharply divided the Baylor campus and alumni. The band spelled out a giant IX on the field (except that it spelled out XI to the Baylor side, to whom all this was supposedly addressed), then formed a star to underline the controversial departure of President Ken Starr — while playing “Hit the Road, Jack.”
The Marching Owl Band — MOB to its admirers — has been engaging in this nose-tweaking nonsense for years. However, Friday’s show crossed the line. Rice officials have since tried to explain (without apologizing) that the band program, “with no prior review by the university administration,” was only poking fun at Baylor’s bungled leadership in the affair and not at the fact that some students were raped. However, the sarcasm seems wildly inappropriate given the searing context.
Key lesson for Rice officials and MOB leadership: If you have to explain the joke, then it’s not a very good joke. Granted, in this case the Owl band had only music, scattering formations and a few glib references by the announcer to make the point. But given the complexity of the painful subjects lampooned — including Title IX policy on gender violence — the point was clearly lost on many.
Second key lesson: Anytime rape or sexual assault is involved, don’t even think twice about using it as a subject for levity. Scrap the idea. Jettison it. Those in the far-flung Baylor universe disagree vehemently on almost everything about the past year. But no one we’ve met thinks this is grist for the humor mill, sophomoric or satiric. Any adults involved in the MOB on-field antics Friday should have known better.
Baylor fans should redirect any anger regarding this episode and focus on more important matters, even as they accept that scandals such as that unfolding at Baylor over the past year will be used, fairly or not, to define Baylor if not to lampoon or lambaste it. Just as the First Amendment allows football athletes to disrespect our country at the playing of the national anthem, so too it allows college bands, with or without mature supervision, to make folly of a tragic situation. It likewise permits us to boo our heads off before presumably doing all we can to right wrongs back on home turf.