At a Friday night football game against Baylor University, the Rice University marching band made fun of the opposing team’s recent sexual-assault scandal by forming an “IX,” for Title IX, on the field. The Marching Owl Band, also known as the MOB, is known for trolling opposing teams and mocking controversial issues by making weird shapes on the field. But this particular stunt struck many viewers as tactless and insensitive, since real people have suffered due to Baylor’s alleged negligence and protection of its football team at the expense of its female students.
While the MOB played “The Muppet Show Theme,” the announcer at the game said the band would take its inspiration from Fozzie Bear that night. “The number of the day is nine, since nine is the number of justices on the Supreme Court,” he said. “Or is it? Waka, waka?” The band made an “IX,” referencing the several women who’ve filed Title IX lawsuits against Baylor; the plantiffs claim that the school ignored repeated reports that its football players were sexually assaulting women.
The announcer continued: “Now for our featured quote of the day, by a famous Clinton prosecutor and former Baylor president Ken Starr, who said, quote, ‘I did not investigate that coach.’” The university demoted Starr from president to chancellor in May, then fired its best-ever football coach, Art Briles, who attended Friday’s game. The MOB made the shape of a star for Starr, under whom the university flouted Title IX mandates, according to an independent review. By its own admission, the university also retaliated against at least one accuser and discouraged sexual-assault reports under Starr’s leadership.
In response to criticism over the MOB’s Friday routine, Rice has released an explanatory statement in the “sorry you were offended” vein that comes up just short of an apology:
The Marching Owl Band, or MOB, has a tradition of satirizing the Rice Owls’ football opponents. In this case, the band’s calling attention to the situation at Baylor was subject to many different interpretations. Although the band’s halftime shows are entirely the members’ projects with no prior review by the university administration, we regret any offense, particularly if Baylor fans may have felt unwelcome in our stadium. While we know that the MOB did not intend in any way to make light of the serious issue of sexual assault, we are concerned that some people may have interpreted the halftime performance in that vein. Sexual assault is a matter of serious concern on campuses across the nation, and all of us have an obligation to address the matter with all the tools at our disposal. The MOB sought to highlight the events at Baylor by satirizing the actions or inactions of the Baylor administration, but it is apparent from the comments of many spectators and Baylor fans that the MOB’s effort may have gone too far.
As far as this anti-rape blogger is concerned, Rice’s joke on Baylor struck the right tone. It punched up at the school’s administration and called out the rapists who got away with their crimes for too long. It forced Baylor fans watching the game to consider the remarkable failings of the team they support and the school that supports it. It also brought discussions of toxic masculinity, athletic immunity, and rape culture in football directly onto the football field, where it’s almost always ignored. NFL fan clubs, take note.