COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The fired director of Ohio State University’s celebrated marching band said through his attorney today that he has become a scapegoat for behavior occurring within the organization before his leadership and he’ll fight to clear his name.
The university dismissed band director Jonathan Waters on Thursday after an investigation concluded that he knew about but failed to stop a “sexualized” culture of rituals, including students being pressured to march in their underwear, sing lewd songs and perform sexually themed stunts that yielded often explicit nicknames.
Waters’ attorney, David Axelrod, said the report denigrates Waters’ efforts to change the band’s culture. He said Waters met with the provost earlier this month, agreed he was willing to have a “zero-tolerance policy” and a “cultural assessment” of the band, and left that meeting believing he’d keep his job.
Waters later was given a choice between quitting or being fired and didn’t resign because he doesn’t believe he acted improperly, Axelrod said. Waters is considering options for how to respond, and it is not clear whether he wants his job back.
“He bleeds scarlet and gray. He loves Ohio State University,” Axelrod said. “But he can’t let even his beloved alma mater take away his good name.”
Meanwhile, the band plays on, and was scheduled to perform today with the Columbus Symphony in what is often considered its unofficial season kickoff.
Waters had led the 225-member band since 2012, succeeding 25-year veteran director Jon Woods.
Waters’ halftime shows for what’s known to fans as “The Best Damn Band in the Land” were considered revolutionary. He changed the shows by drawing them out on iPads instead of paper, directing marchers who morphed into the shapes of horses, superheroes and dinosaurs appearing to gallop, fly and tromp across the Buckeye football field.
New Ohio State President Michael Drake said he acted after being “profoundly disappointed and shocked” by the findings of a two-month investigation that began before his arrival.
“We just had to make a square-wave change between this report, which was unacceptable, and the future, which we start today,” Drake said.
The report began with a parent’s complaint of “objectionable traditions and customs,” about which band members were sworn to secrecy.
They included “games” students were assigned to play to earn sexually themed nicknames: One female student had to pretend to have an orgasm while sitting on the lap of a fellow band member, her brother, and others pretended to be sex toys, prostitutes or body parts. Investigators found Waters was aware of some students’ nicknames and allegedly used them “when he was upset,” but he is also reported to have advised students against the monikers.
Another tradition — described as optional — is called the Midnight Ramp. It involves band members stripping down to their underwear and marching in formation on the field of Ohio Stadium. Investigators found directors, including Waters, sometimes attended. One female student said older members of the band would warn newcomers to wear “fuller coverage” undergarments for the event. Some marched naked.
A spokesman said the university was required to promptly perform the probe under federal Title IX sexual discrimination laws. The university appointed former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery to lead an independent follow-up review.