Ohio State under shadow again, this time with band

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Having forced out a beloved football
coach and watched its president retire after a series of verbal gaffes,
Ohio State University again finds itself grabbing headlines with the
firing of a celebrated marching band director accused of ignoring a
"sexualized" culture of rituals among band members.
The university
dismissed Jonathan Waters on Thursday after a two-month investigation
concluded that he knew about but failed to stop rituals that included
students being pressured to march in their underwear, sing lewd songs,
and perform sexually themed stunts that yielded often explicit
nicknames.
The investigation began with a parent’s complaint of
"objectionable traditions and customs," about which band members were
sworn to secrecy.
Waters’ attorney, David Axelrod, said Friday the
report denigrates Waters’ efforts to change the band’s culture. He said
Waters, band director since 2012, met with the provost earlier this
month, agreed to have a "zero-tolerance policy" and a "cultural
assessment" of the band, and left the meeting thinking he’d keep his
job.
Waters later was given a choice between quitting or being
fired and didn’t resign because he doesn’t believe he acted improperly,
Axelrod said. He said they’ll fight to clear Waters’ name and are
considering their options for that. He also questions why the school
interviewed relatively few band members.
Meanwhile, the band
marches on, with a scheduled Friday performance with the Columbus
Symphony in what is often considered its unofficial season kickoff.
And
current Buckeyes, alumni and other fans are again debating whether the
school made the right move. Some did the same when coach Jim Tressel was
forced out in 2011 after players sold memorabilia for cash and tattoos,
or when Gordon Gee retired as president last summer after jabs he made
at Roman Catholics and Southeastern Conference schools were publicized,
or even when the school terminated the cheerleading coach and two
assistants over sexual harassment allegations last year.
Some
supporters depict Waters as a scapegoat, while others contend the
university took appropriate action to address an unacceptable
environment.
"Is he being held responsible for behavior that has
been going on for decades? Yes, absolutely," said alumnus Bob Stephens
of Seguin, Texas, who said he witnessed some of the behaviors referenced
in the report when he was in the band in the late 1980s.
"However, as the director, the buck stops with him," Stephens said.
Waters
became leader of the 225-member band, known to fans as "The Best Damn
Band in the Land," in 2012, succeeding 25-year veteran director Jon
Woods.
Waters’ halftime shows, created on iPads instead of paper,
were considered revolutionary. The marchers would morph into the shapes
of horses, superheroes and dinosaurs appearing to gallop, fly and tromp
across the Buckeye football field. Some of the videos landed the band in
an Apple commercial in January. One performance in which the band takes
the shape of a moonwalking Michael Jackson has more than 10 million
views on YouTube.
"He’s done things for the marching band we’ve
never seen before. He brought the Ohio State Marching Band to national
fame," said Cody Hawkins, an incoming freshman from Massillon who plans
to try out for the band and considers Waters’ firing "a knee-jerk
reaction."
"Some of the stuff (in the report) is inappropriate and uncalled for, but they are college
kids," said Hawkins, 18.
New
Ohio State President Michael Drake said he was shocked by the findings
of the investigation, which started before he arrived.
They
included "games" students were assigned to play to earn sexually themed
nicknames, and one female student had to pretend to have an orgasm while
sitting on the lap of a fellow band member, her brother. Investigators
found Waters was aware of some nicknames and allegedly used them "when
he was upset," but he is also reported to have advised students against
the monikers.
Another tradition, described as optional, involved
band members marching in their underwear or even naked on the field of
Ohio Stadium. Investigators found directors, including Waters, sometimes
attended.
The report said the school also investigated concerns
that Waters cursed at students. A student provided an audio recording of
Waters yelling and cursing in a private meeting after a disagreement
during practice in September. The report did not elaborate on the
context of that disagreement but noted that Waters and an associate
director who was in the meeting said the student had a history of
"attitude problems."
A spokesman said the university was required
to promptly perform its investigation of the band under federal Title IX
sexual discrimination laws. Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery will
lead an independent follow-up review.