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.