In the second recent scandal to cloud a nationally acclaimed marching band, the director of the Ohio State University band has been dismissed after investigators found a sexualized culture of rituals in the group that bills itself as the “Best Damn Band in the Land.”
Band director Jonathan Waters was fired by the school after an investigation prompted by a parental complaint found the band’s “culture facilitated acts of sexual harassment, creating a hostile environment for students.” The lawyer representing Waters said the band leader will fight to clear his name.
According to the report, musicians were pressured to march through the stadium in their underwear, sing school anthems that had been massaged with bawdy and culturally inappropriate lyrics and force rookies to endure hazing.
It was a hazing ritual that went awry that led to the year-and-a-half suspension of the famed marching band at Florida A&M University after drum major Robert Champion died in 2011.
Waters has been part of the culture of the band in Columbus, Ohio, since 1995, when he played the sousaphone and marched in performances. He moved through the ranks, rising from graduate assistant to the band’s directing staff to interim band director in 2012. He was named director in October 2012.
Waters is credited with making the marching band a work of art through intricate choreography that created cultural icons and superheroes who appeared to fly and move across the field. The band’s Michael Jackson tribute, famed for its sequence showing the white-gloved pop star appearing to moonwalk, has received more than 10 million views on YouTube.
David F. Axelrod, the Columbus, Ohio, lawyer representing Waters, told the Los Angeles Times that the fired director still believes in the school and the band, but “he is going to fight to clear his name. This has been a big shock.”
Axelrod said Waters went into a meeting this week and was told he was being fired. There has been no time for the defense to interview witnesses or do a complete evaluation, but some of the practices “preceded John’s tenure as director,” Axelrod said.
In addition to being a noted entertainment break at half-time shows for the powerhouse football team, the band performed in a commercial for computer giant Apple, whose products helped in designing the shows.
More than 400 students try out each year for the band's 225 spots. Women were admitted to the band in 1973 and make up about 20% of the ensemble. The report found that the band was a tight-knit community and that band members were sworn to secrecy about what went on, an oath also honored by alumni.
On May 23, a parent of one of the marching band members reported that the culture seemed sexualized and filed a complaint under university policy and Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination at educational institutions. The complaint was investigated by the Office of University Compliance.
In the report, investigators said they learned of the tradition known as the Midnight Ramp, during which band members strip down to their underwear and march in formation on the field of Ohio Stadium. Investigators found band staff and directors, including Waters, had sometimes attended. The report also found the band engaged in what they called games, during which students earned sexually themed nicknames. For example, one female student had to pretend to have an orgasm while sitting on the lap of a fellow band member; others pretended to be sex toys or body parts.
“This is 2014, and we respect our students as young adults,” Ohio State President Michael Drake said in a video posted on the university website. “We respect women, and we respect all the different people who work with us, we respect that diversity. We just had to make a square-wave change between this report, which was unacceptable, and the future, which we start today.”
Drake, who has been on the job just three weeks, said he fired Waters after being “profoundly disappointed and shocked” by the findings of the two-month investigation that began before his arrival.
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