Southern Miss’s disciplinary action misses the mark

Published 9:33 am Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This is a column I really hoped I wouldn’t have to write. I really hoped that clearer minds would prevail and common sense would step in. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

This column is about the University of Southern Mississippi, which Tuesday disciplined several members of its pep band for participating in a non-politically-correct chant at a recent NCAA Tournament basketball game. According to a CNN story, five members of the band had their scholarships revoked and were removed from the band, after they yelled a derogatory chant at Angel Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican basketball player on Kansas State’s team.

The offending chant, which was recorded on national television last Thursday, was “Where’s your green card?”

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The students will also be required to complete a two-hour training course on cultural sensitivity. I’m sure that won’t be a complete waste of time.

“This is a teachable moment,” Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Paul told CNN.

When I was a student at Notre Dame, I was a member of a group called “The Leprechaun Legion.” We not only were huge fans of the basketball team, we were also the de-facto leaders of the student cheer section at the games, because we got there earliest and had the prime seats up front. Each game featured a “jeer card,” which included pointed insults and jokes directed at opposing team members. We never sunk so low as to use racial slurs or anything like that, but I’m sure we said some things that might have “toed the line” of good taste as far as the USM faculty is concerned. And yes, sometimes members of our band joined in the chants.

I remember one game when we played Georgetown, whose center was Michael Sweetney, a man who…let’s just say he took up a lot of space on the basketball court. Accordingly, the Leprechaun Legion gave every student an empty McDonald’s bag, which we shook every time Sweetney came down the court or shot a free throw. He still scored something like 40 points, Georgetown won, and he’s now in the NBA — I guess he got the last laugh.

I can just see the USM faculty coming down and saying, “Oh, no, no, you can’t do that! That’s offensive to obese people! You need to go through sensitivity training!”

It may come as a surprise to some people, but college kids occasionally … well … say stupid stuff. If the band kids had said racial slurs or used swear words, I would be in agreeance that they should be punished, but that chant didn’t even come close to that line.

(As an aside, I have regularly seen Notre Dame opponents’ fans loudly chant the phrase “F–k the Irish!” and nobody has ever so much as raised an eyebrow.)

If USM still felt the kids needed to be punished, they could have had them clean the campus or tutor high-school students, or do some other community service that benefits others. Now that would have been a “teachable moment.”

Justin Schuver is the managing editor of The Post-Searchlight. You can email him at