When I was covering sports for the Chanute Tribune, I intentionally never picked sides in the intense rivalry between Kansas and Kansas State. Now that my sports loyalties are no longer a professional issue, I have a slight bit of sympathy for Kansas in football and Kansas State in basketball just because I would rather see underdogs win than heavy favorites. Still, I enjoy watching from afar the battle between fans of these schools.
I never thought I would see the day when this conflict would be escalated by a marching band performance. I’ve always considered marching bands to be pretty irrelevant, since there are no marching band radio stations and I’ve never heard the phrase “I like the marching band version of that song better.”
Like most sensible spectators, I spend halftime of any football game I ever pay to attend in line for the restroom and the concession stand.
If I had participated in my usual halftime ritual while attending the Kansas State football game in Manhattan last Saturday, I would have missed the most memorable and talked-about portion of the Wildcats’ 34-0 rout of South Dakota.The halftime entertainment actually received far more statewide attention than the game.
A small portion of the halftime show was called “inappropriate” and “obscene” by press reports, which inspired me to immediately go look for footage on the Internet.
It is difficult to describe in a family newspaper exactly what I saw in the video, but I will nobly try. Apparently, the band was doing some sort of bizarre tribute to “Star Trek,” playing the theme song of the science fiction television show while marching in various formations. At one point, the announcer says something about the Starship Enterprise encountering an alien and the band breaks in two of these formations.
The formation on one side of the field–the “alien” that the announcer mentioned– quite clearly represented the mascot for the Kansas Jayhawks.
According to Kansas State, the other group was supposed to be forming the shape of the iconic spaceship. However, to those of us who possess eyes and the same basic sense of humor as the average 14 year-old boy, the band's formation looks suspiciously like a key part of the male anatomy.
The latter group proceeded to march towards the opening beak of the Kansas mascot, in a way that made the Jayhawk look like it was a particularly friendly bird. In the likely event that the upcoming election cycle puts the Clintons back in the White House, this halftime show implied that Kansas’ mascot would be well-qualified to intern there.
A little good-natured trash talk between rival colleges is healthy and good, as the economic success of sports largely depends on fans loyally loving their teams and fiercely hating other teams. However, that doesn’t mean that such rivalries should be the subject of blatantly sexual imagery presented as family entertainment in the middle of a college football field. This is particularly true when it is presented during a game that doesn’t even involve the rivals that are being so graphically depicted.
Someone associated with this marching band should have seen the halftime show in advance and realized it was totally inappropriate and obscene. Maybe not as obscene as what South Dakota State managed to do to Kansas’ football team on the field last Saturday, and not as inappropriate as the initial attempts of Kansas State officials to play dumb and pretend that this was just innocent entertainment about aliens and spaceships right when the story broke.
The failure of anyone associated with the Wildcat marching band to recognize that presenting this particular brand of halftime entertainment might not have been the best idea eventually led to public apologies, suspension of the band’s director, $5,000 in self-imposed fines to the Big 12, and the necessity to have all halftime performances approved in advance. This error in judgment will end up causing far more pain to people in K-State’s band than it will hurt anyone associated with the Jayhawks. Kansas football fans have enough to worry about this year without focusing on any marching band. So, this little halftime stunt will end up having the opposite of its intended effect.
Still, I relate to the kids who put this little stunt together, and who miscalculated in thinking that it might be well-received by their intended audience. Similarly, I once managed to attract a great deal of negative attention by publicly making jokes that were considered inappropriate about a beloved area football program. Something I thought might be humorous was judged by a large group of people not to be funny at all. It attracted many negative comments and awkward social consequences at the time, but it eventually provided me with a very valuable learning experience on how I should connect with an audience and express myself.
As inappropriate as this halftime show might have been, I really hope that the reaction to it provides a similar learning experience for kids in the Kansas State marching band.
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