Ohio State band lacked real leader

Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, eh? It’s a politically incorrect sexual-innuendo-filled Monty Python sketch that is funny on stage but completely unacceptable when it’s not comedy but part of the daily conduct of the members of the Ohio State University Marching Band.

It’s far worse when the band’s director and staff are witnesses to, or worse, participants in the innuendo and sexually unacceptable conduct, to the point that brought up by the band’s physical trainer were ignored.

The OSU band admitted female members in 1973 but, judging from the investigation report from the Office of University Compliance and Integrity at Ohio State, it’s operating like a good-old boys athletic club and steamroom.

To say the report is filled with sexual harassment, hazing and puerile filth is an understatement. One needs only read one set of the lyrics in the band’s supposedly non-existent “alternative” songbook to get a picture of an unsupervised culture.

Band should be fun. A college band should be especially fun. But, this one has a culture as messed up as college football, albeit without the excuses of being driven by money or stardom for individuals.

Band director Jonathan Waters deserved to go. As a former member, surely he knew of some of the seedier “traditions” of the organization. And as director, he oversaw some, including the practice of the midnight underwear-clad march across Ohio Stadium, about which band members were sworn to secrecy. He started being sure to be on hand after a student suffered alcohol poisoning at the event a couple of years back. That was Waters response to trouble.

Time and again in the report, he discusses a culture “in transition,” but none of the questionable behavior brought to the university’s attention was simply outlawed. Time and again, Waters asks band student leaders if such practices “still are necessary” instead of declaring himself the man in charge and outlawing the conduct.

This is not some shrinking violet of a man, as part of the allegations against him include a profanity-laced tirade toward a student worthy of any football coach. And, tellingly, some of the behavior only changed after a band parent lodged a complaint in May, which triggered the investigation.

Yes, kids will have fun. Yes, they’ll, as Waters said to questioners, conduct much of their lives with innuendo. But the conduct cannot be sanctioned and institutionalized.

Somebody’s got to be in charge.