By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
On Friday night, Rice University looked to make a statement against Baylor as it hosted the No. 21-ranked Bears at Rice Stadium. Ultimately, its statement had nothing to do with the Owls’ football performance, as they fell to the Bears 38-10.
As the Marching Owl Band took the field, members formed the Roman numeral IX in front of the Baylor fan section in an attempt to mock the recent sexual assault allegations and Title IX violations that have plagued Baylor and its football team. Once the band was done performing the IX, it shifted to form a star, referencing former President and Chancellor Ken Starr, who was fired amid the investigation into the sexual assault allegations. While the band shifted to the star, it did so to the tune,“Hit the Road, Jack,” and the narrator came over the sound system to announce the quote of the day, from Starr, who said, “I did not investigate that coach.”
“That coach” refers to former Baylor football coach Art Briles, who was in attendance for the game but reportedly left before the halftime show commenced.
The band’s attempt to remind the Baylor faithful of its recent downfalls off the field was not well received and was met with a parade of boos from Baylor fans in attendance.
“When I saw that, I thought, first of all, it wasn’t funny,” Izmir, Turkey sophomore Andres Cruz said. “They’re essentially trivializing the trauma that these people have lived for a laugh thats going to be on TV. I’m definitely for schools taking digs at or joking with each other, but making fun of a sexual assault scandal is three steps too far.”
On Saturday, Rice released the following statement in response to the band’s halftime performance the night before.
“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.”
Rice stressed the fact that the halftime shows do not receive prior review by administration.
“We regret any offense, particularly if Baylor fans may have felt unwelcome in our stadium,” the statement continued. “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… 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.”
This is not the first controversial halftime show the MOB has performed in recent years. In 2007, the MOB had fun at the expense of the University of Texas at Austin, performing a show called “Book ‘em Horns” in which the university mocked the recent legal trouble of some of the Longhorn football players. Once again against Texas in 2011, the band formed a $-E-C, hinting at all the money Texas A&M would receive by leaving the Big 12 and joining the SEC (Southeastern Conference), which A&M officially announced a few days later.
In a New York Times article When the MOB takes the field, Stodginess Scatters from Sept. 24, 2011, Jason Cohen discusses the MOB’S primary focus for performing after the MOB completed a show that targeted former head coach Todd Graham, who left Rice to take the coaching vacancy at the University of Tulsa.
“We don’t aim to get complaints,” said Greg Narro, a Rice drum minor, in the article. “We aim to entertain.”
Rice’s statement of apology was not fully embraced by either party, particularly Rice Thrasher Editor-in-Chief Yasna Haghdoost. In an opinion piece in the Rice Thresher, she wrote that Rice’s apology only continues to silence the conversation surrounding sexual assault, particularly at Rice University.
“Shattering the culture of silence and dismantling the institutions that perpetuate sexual violence requires acts of boldness that speak truth to power,” Haghdoost said. “Rice’s half-hearted, equivocating excuse for an apology to any potentially offended Baylor fans only perpetuates the notion that discussions surrounding sexual assault have to be limited to a gentle discourse to ensure those in power do not feel threatened.”
Haghdoost claimed the Marching Owl Band had every right to perform in such a manner that brought attention to the issue of sexual assault, not just on Baylor’s campus but on other campuses as well, including Rice.
“The Marching Owl Band fulfilled that obligation by using its platform to shed light on a serious miscarriage of justice,” Haghdoost said. “Perhaps Rice University can take a page out of its book.”
Whether the actions of the Owls’ marching band was meant as a joke between friendly Texas rivals or was meant to demean the recent issues of the university and provoke its fan base, these types of occurrences have become part of the DNA of the Rice Marching Owls Band.