deadspinThe newest means of mindless protest by people utterly unaffected by that they profess to care so much about is pampered athletes taking a knee or otherwise refusing to participate during the playing of the national anthem. And now, members of a college marching band have taken up the noble protest, as Todd Starnes reports: 

To say the East Carolina University Marching Band struck a wrong chord with fans would be an understatement.

Furious North Carolina football fans booed the band after several members refused to play the National Anthem – while others took a knee.

East Carolina’s blatant disrespect of the Star-Spangled Banner happened Oct. 1st at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Local reports indicate about a dozen members of the Marching Pirates disgraced themselves on the football field.

At halftime – outraged fans got to have their say.

The stadium was filled with booing as the band prepared to perform its halftime show.

‘I am ashamed of this school for letting the band do this,’ one irate reader posted on the university’s Facebook page. ‘Shame ECU, shame!’

‘What are you teaching these kids,’ one parent asked. ‘I believe the students have the right to protest but not on that field in uniform.’

And another reader offered this suggestion: ‘What if those of us who write checks to the university stop sending them as our way of using our voice?

As one might expect, the feckless head of the University defended his witless charges:

ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton released a statement defending the marching band’s disgraceful actions.

‘While we acknowledge and understand the disappointment felt by many Pirate fans in response to the events at the beginning of today’s football game, we urge all Pirate students, supporters and participants to act with respect for each other’s views,’ the chancellor wrote.

He also affirmed ‘the rights of our students, staff and faculty to express their personal views.’

‘Civil discourse is an East Carolina value and part of our ECU creed,’ he wrote. ‘We are proud that recent campus conversations on difficult issues have been constructive, meaningful exchanges that helped grow new understanding among our campus community.

Others in the community were less than impressed:

Kiernan Shanahan, a Raleigh attorney and member of the ECU board of trustees, told me he was shocked and appalled.

‘The strong boos from the crowd when they realized what was happening certainly echoed the sentiment of the board,’ Mr. Shanahan told me. ‘It was unfortunate and poor judgment for these few band members to disrespect our country, to take advantage of the uniforms they were wearing as ECU Pirate band members – to advance a personal agenda.’

‘We foster and encourage free speech but that has to be tempered by time, place and circumstances,’ Mr. Shanahan said. ‘It was not the right time, place and (it was) the incorrect manner for these students to articulate personal dissent. It reflected poorly on the band.

And so it did. It also reflected poorly on the University, not that the people in charge are capable of understanding that, and on colleges in general. It also reflected poorly on the teachers in charge of that band, who will presumably, do nothing to correct that example of unprofessional, juvenile, self-centered conduct.

But they have a First Amendment Right! No. They don’t, not in the sense that they have a constitutionally defined and protected right to say and do whatever they want, when and wherever they want to do it.

To be sure, political protest is acknowledged to be the kind of free speech generally deserving of the greatest protection. Such speech need not be utterances, but symbolic acts such as burning the flag, and other such juvenile, boorish displays of poor upbringing and general self-important idiocy.

Oh, but you don’t have the right to criticize these brave band members!

Oh, but I do. That’s free speech too. The First Amendment does not guarantee that if I say or do something profoundly stupid, I have a right to suffer nothing for my foolishness, nor am I constitutionally immunized from criticism, whether temperate or heated.

What is forgotten—and purposely withheld by our progressively-addled media operatives—is there is no such thing as a right to play the clarinet or the sax, or any other instrument in the ECU Marching Band. The professor in charge of that band, had he any sense or backbone, would remove those youngsters, freeing them to protest on behalf of violent thugs too stupid not to confront police officers with guns, as they please. That’s right, gentle readers, that professor may, if he chooses, tell his student musicians, barely out of teens youngsters whose positions in that band are granted by competitive audition, and who remain only as long as they maintain their skills at a sufficient high level, that there are to be no political/social protests. They are in that band for one primary purpose only: to perform. And when they perform, they do so professionally, meaning they play the music at the times and places proscribed and do nothing other than doing their best to play the music and hit their marks.

Many of these overlarge children are granted scholarships for playing in the band. Perhaps they need to learn that their employers always expect a certain level of decorum and professionalism and if they are unwilling to provide it, there may be severe economic consequences. Losing money does tend to quickly dry up one’s revolutionary fervor.

There is nothing difficult about that—for professional teachers. There is nothing unconstitutional about such policies. All that is being demanded of the students is that they do what they have presumably joined the band to do: become better, perhaps even professional, musicians. As a professional musician, I understand this well. Professionals are there for one reason: to make music as well as possible. Anything else is irrelevant and simply not allowed. Should I have decided, in any ensemble in which I ever participated, that I wanted to make a political protest during a performance, I would have been out on my thoughtlessly political rear end before the next measure began, and rightfully so.

Interestingly enough, the same principle applies to professional sports.



There is no such thing as a right to play in the NFL or NBA. Accordingly, teams may impose any rule they choose. If they chose, they could demand military specification haircuts for their players, and those whose personas were dependent upon wild, long mops of hair would be free to surrender their multimillion dollar salaries in favor of their invaluable sense of style. By the same token, football players can’t engage in taunting displays in the end zone after a touchdown. There is no difference in requiring other professional behaviors during other times on the field.

Representing any organization or business comes with rules of decorum. That’s why restaurant employees that engage in what might be labeled political protests, such as refusing service to police officers, spitting in their food, or yelling will find themselves out of a job.

Too many Americans seem to have lost the ability to differentiate between constitutionally protected speech, and plain stupidity and rudeness. It’s time we rediscovered actual civility. Perhaps we could start with the ECU Marching Band?

PRE-POSTING UPDATE: It seems there may be some adult supervision at the University after all:

In response to East Carolina Director of Athletics Jeff Compher’s statement on Monday, the East Carolina Marching Pirates have announced that protests during the national anthem will no longer be tolerated during football games, effective immediately.

In an e-mail provided by the university to CBS WNCN North Carolina, Dr. William Staub, director of Athletic Bands; Chris Ulffers, director of the School of Music; and Dr. Chris Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, made the following statement:

‘We regret the actions taken by 19 members of the East Carolina University Marching Pirates on game day October 1st felt hurtful to many in our Pirate family and disrespectful to our country. We understand and respect this is an issue where emotions are strong. The Marching Pirates continue to be fully supportive of all the values the East Carolina University community holds dear.

We have met with the band and the members have collectively reaffirmed their commitment to the unique privilege and responsibility that comes with wearing the uniform of the Marching Pirates. College is about learning, and it is our expectation that the members of the Marching Pirates will learn from this experience and fulfill their responsibilities.

Sounds like the University took my advice and gave the kiddies the choice to continue on their newly discovered revolutionary careers or keep their scholarships and earn a college degree.  Amazing how clarifying such choices can be.