February 13, 2016

Football Über Alles

Offense of the Month: February 2016.
Must be the silly season in Iowa. On January 1, Stanford University, the football team, beat the University of Iowa football team in the Rose Bowl, 45–16. But the Stanford marching band lost during half-time, judging by the howls of outrage from Hawkeyes fans. The band featured the typical smorgasbord of demeaning gestures, sendups, and mockery of the visiting institution, including a dancing cow. Nothing that anyone who regularly watches college football hasn’t seen before.

But these antics incensed Iowa state senator Mark Chelgren, Republican of Ottumwa. He introduced a bill that would prohibit the three state universities in Iowa from “collaborat[ing] or cooperat[ing]” with Stanford “until Stanford university officials publicly apologize to Iowa’s citizens and to the University of Iowa for the unsporting behavior of the Leland Stanford junior university marching band.” I’m unclear whether the senator’s sloppy capitalization was meant as a payback dig at Stanford: did he mean to insinuate that it’s but a “junior university”? (Stanford was named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr.) But Chelgren’s bill has a howler: it exempts from the ban all “sporting events.” In other words, the activity that caused the supposed offense is off the hook. Play football with Stanford all you want, including, apparently, leaving the band free to multiply its mockeries. But scholarly activities? Not on your life. They must pay the price. That’ll show them.

Chelgren claims to have studied logic at the University of California-Riverside (though his degree, associates in science, is from Riverside Community College). The chairman of the state senate’s education committee, Herman Quirmbach, Democrat of Ames, seemed to pooh-pooh the idea: “Stanford University is one of the premier research universities in the world and for us to cut off contact with Stanford over something that happened on a football field I think sinks to a level that would be unworthy of our fine research institutions.” Quirmbach, with a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton, teaches at Iowa State. This blogger is omitting the offensive comments that came immediately to mind about football, Iowa, some of its politicians, and the relative value of credentials.