Thursday, October 9, 2008

Band Marches On

In hindsight, I'm glad that I missed Ohio State's visit to Madison on Saturday. All freshman year nostalgia (the day-long party, students storming the field, the spontaneous parade through traffic down University Avenue) aside, we got routed this year. But furthermore, I can die a happy man having never experienced a gameday at Camp Randall without the University of Wisconsin Marching Band.

This issue has been talked all the way up Bascom Hill and down again since the story broke last Friday, and I actually meant to pounce on it a little bit sooner, but this week has been hell at work. And of course, today the word came out that band director Mike Leckrone is lifting the suspension on the marching band, so they'll be able to play at the game on Saturday night.

Not that I fault Leckrone for suspending the band at all. He's been the leader of the UW band since before my parents were in high school, and he built the program from the ground up. Singlehandedly, he turned an unpopular sideshow attraction into "the Hardest Working Band in America," nationally recognized as one of the most elite marching band programs.

So when similar allegations first reared their head in 2006, he treated with them as he saw best, until hearsay among the UW administration, the press and the public created a sensation. Then, in order to keep his job amid threats from then-Chancellor John Wiley, he drew a line in the sand, and when band members crossed that line again this year, he had no choice in the face of that same pressure but to take the action he did.

Was the band out of line? That's a tough call. As a part of the campus media during the first round of allegations in 2006, I took a close look at the subject and talked to a number of people more familiar with it than I. My personal conclusion: the band is wild, wilder than most on a campus where the unofficial motto is "Work hard, party hard." And, seeing as they work harder than most, it's a given they're going to party harder as well.

But my question persisted: was the band out of line? In the course of being the wildest band in America, yes, it seems several of the 300 members, at times, without malice, crossed a line they ought not to have. Among most of the band members, it's likely the discretions went unnoticed. But a few felt alienated by the raucous behavior, as is their right.

However, to infer that the UW band is constantly in a state of uproarious, lewd and inebriated debauchery is an outright fallacy. To suggest suspending the entire band or even dismantling the program ought to be wholly laughable, and it was, for me, until 2006.

For me, the issue isn't the allegations of sexual misconduct (which, if true, shouldn't be happening), nor the highjinks (which shouldn't be such a big damn deal), nor the copious amounts of alcohol consumed (which shouldn't be a source of shame, a but point of pride).

The issue is a glaringly obvious double standard. In the past five years, a UW football player has beat his girlfriend and thrown her down the stairs. Another football player turned a fellow student's face into raw hamburger at what's supposed to be a peaceful annual tradition about beer pong and music. A handful of football players started a brawl in public, punched a cop, then got pepper sprayed and tried to evade the law.

The list goes on, but I'm too proud of my University to enumerate it any further. These are serious crimes that did physical damage to people. They're proven in court, by far more concrete than whispered allegations, and by far more numerous and obvious than the charges levelled against the band, yet no one has even breathed a word about suspending the football team.

And I'm not suggesting the UW football team needs to be dismantled, either. Come game day, I'll be the first one dressed in red and screaming myself hoarse in their support, but I would do the same for the band.

Because as much as the administration, the public and the media seem to want to beat up on the band, they are as much a part of life at the University of Wisconsin as the football team..or any other aspect of campus life.

In fact, I find the band a little more endearing, because they put in physical work that's nearly as grueling as the football team's. Their time-commitment rivals if not exceeds the portion of their lives football players sacrifice. The band certainly outnumbers the football players, and I would say they outshine them hands down in school spirit.

While unlike the football players, members of the band pay their own tuition to attend the University and work their asses off for the betterment of the UW.


Anonymous said...

Good rant, Dusty. Good points. But overconsumption of alcohol a "point of pride"???

Do that wearing station apparel and get busted - well, ask Snuff about that. Get my point?

Private vs. "public" life.


Anonymous said...

Many of the football players involved in those incidents were charged with crimes. Would you prefer that the school go after individual members of the band and charge them with sexual assault and underage drinking?

Were the "crimes" of the band that bad? Most people would probably say no. It's college kids having fun, right? But that somebody was upset enough this time around, as well as the last time the band got in trouble. Should we ignore the rights of the people who felt they were victims of those incidents?

I, for one, thought that punishing the band as an organization might actually be the most effective solution. It didn't bring legal charges to anyone, but the punishment motivates the entire band to police themselves.

Will it work? Maybe, but probably not. Traditions like hazing are hard to break. At least the UW is attempting to address the problem.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of double-standard when it comes to athletics department. Football players have gotten away with a lot that they shouldn't have.

That doesn't mean that the band should get away with lesser infractions. The problem as I see it is, this band is technically a college class. It's a 1-credit course through the music department. It ostensibly (although how much I don't know) gets funding from the UW in some form or another (Leckrone, at any rate, is on the payroll). If this were a private org, I wouldn't be pissed off or expecting the whole band to be suspended.

Leckrone was right to suspend them, and it's a move he probably should've taken long ago. The stories I've heard about this behavior go back decades. And yeah, work hard, party hard and all that, but there are lines that a student organization - much less one actively representing the university for college credit - can not cross.

This is the best college band in the US because they function as a unit, with nearly military rigor. Unfortunately that's why they have such a prevalent culture of hazing, and also why they are being disciplined as a unit.

I hear a lot of whining from band alums complaining about how "weak" the kids today are because they're reporting this, but frankly, that's irrelevant. All it means is that the same unacceptable behavior was going on years ago and nobody said anything.

Anonymous said...

Football players aren't beating up their girlfriends as part of an organized team activity, band members hazing are. Not a double standard, a completely different ballgame.

Dustin Christopher said...

Yes, I would prefer the individual members of the band be charged, if indeed crimes have been committed. If crimes haven't been committed, then there was never any reason for an uproar in the first place. Dealing with it in the public justice system airs the alleged problems to the public, who will then be able to deal in fact instead of conjecture. Punishing those responsible, if indeed punishment is warranted, places the blame where it belongs: on the
one or two bad apples and not the entire bunch.

And it's not a different ballgame, Anonymous # 4, because as TJM pointed out in the first place, there's a distinction between private and public life. The band was not on display when the "incidents" occurred. They don't represent the band on the bus where some of the incidents are alleged to have occurred. They certainly don't represent the band when they are at parties in private residences.

Saying parties where band members are present constitute an organized team activity is the same as saying the gathering of football players at Union South that ended in a brawl constituted an organized team activity. Double standard.

Anonymous said...

I agree with /tjm. A "point of pride" should not be instilled for the overconsumption of alchohol. In fact, it should be quite the opposite. It doesn't take pride or intelligence to tilt a bottle, glass, or can to your lips and swallow excessive amounts of alchohol and act like a goon.

If these kids were representing the school when they erred with abuse, hazing, and bad behaviour (even on a school sponsored bus), just as fraternity/sorority members represent the greek letters they display, they should be punished accordingly. Yes, they DO represent the band while on the bus.

And if this abuse were reported about a fraternity/sorority, I have a feeling your slant might have been somewhat different. What about members of a high school football team, not in uniform, but at a "private" location "bonding", hazing and sodomizing other members of their team? This was reported just a few weeks ago out west. Where do you draw the line?

Being a part of many groups sometimes requires adhering to a code of conduct. And that doesn't mean that those codes are uniformly enforced - public or private. Life isn't fair sometimes.

I love the band and a feel for the members who were not involved, but equally suspended. It's time for leadership from within to maintain a "point of pride" for what they do best - entertain on the field. They didn't get their reputation (which Lekrone & Co and thousands of ex-students have worked decades to develop) by being "work hard, play harder" students. They got it by being outstanding musicians.