Band director loses job amid inquiry
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University fired the director of its celebrated marching band on Thursday amid allegations he knew about and ignored "serious cultural issues" including sexual harassment.
Jonathan Waters had led the band since 2012, and served in lesser capacities for a decade before that. His halftime shows for what's known to fans as "The Best Damn Band in the Land" were considered revolutionary and drew millions of viewers on YouTube.
Fledgling university president Michael Drake, on the job just three weeks, said in a video statement posted to Ohio State's website that a two-month investigation uncovered a "sexualized" culture inside the band and determined Waters knew about and failed to stop harassment.
According to the report, Waters said that sexual harassment is not a part of the band's culture and that "sexual innuendo is found in much of what college students do."
The probe was prompted by the complaint of a parent, who said members must swear secrecy oaths "about objectionable traditions and customs," including members marching across the field in their underwear -- witnesses described it as the "Midnight Ramp" -- under the supervision of band directors and staff. One female student said more senior members of the band warn new members about the event and advise them to wear items that provide "fuller coverage."
The report states that Waters was present for this tradition.
Assistant band director Michael Smith said he'd witnessed the underwear march -- though some wear pajamas or shorts while others go naked, according to witnesses -- and said he didn't believe what he'd seen. An associate band director, Christopher Hoch, said he recalled a student having alcohol poisoning at the event some years ago.
Witnesses also said rookie band members were given sexually explicit nicknames and told to perform "tricks" related to them.
Phone and email messages were left with Waters seeking comment.
Waters, 38, revolutionized the band's halftime shows through the use of iPads instead of paper, allowing students to morph into the shapes of horses, superheroes and dinosaurs galloping, flying and trudging across the field. Its technological advances landed the band in an Apple commercial in January. One performance in which the band takes the shape of a moonwalking Michael Jackson has more than 10 million views on YouTube.
Waters started as a sousaphone player in the band and later worked as its graduate assistant, its assistant director and then interim director under Jon Woods, who retired after 25 years in 2012. Waters told an OSU Alumni Club gathering in Chillicothe in March it was "the greatest job in America."
Drake said the band season will go on as usual as the search for a new director begins. Members of the 225-member band are scheduled to perform this weekend with the Columbus Symphony in an annual event considered the unofficial start of its season.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report. ESPN.com's Heather Dinich also contributed.