New York Times       Sept. 24 2002


by Daniel J. Wakin

Columbia Haltime [sic] Gibe Irks
Some At Fordham

Halftime satire by Ivy League bands is a routine hazard at football games.
But Fordham University students and alumni say a Columbia University band
announcer went too far Saturday with an off-color gibe, apparently about
the priest sexual-abuse scandal.

A student at Fordham, a Jesuit university, has circulated a petition
seeking an apology from the president of Columbia, Fordham's rival in an
annual football game. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
made a similar demand yesterday.

The comment was part of the halftime show broadcast over the loudspeaker
at Wien Stadium, Columbia's football field. According to Elizabeth
Kennedy, the Fordham senior who circulated the petition, the narrator made
a reference to Fordham that included a double-entendre about altar boys.

The Catholic League's president, William Donohue, called the remark
Catholic-bashing, and said Columbia's president, Lee C. Bollinger, should
apologize. He said he was outraged by a report that people on the Columbia
side cheered and applauded the line.

"It angers me because I know the multicultural mantra is so much the rage
on college campuses," he said, "and for elite institutions like Columbia
to provide an enthusiastic response to bigotry is disturbing."

A spokeswoman for Columbia, Lauren Marshall, said the comment was made by
a student and in no way represented the university. "Those remarks were
insensitive and we're definitely sorry that people were offended," she
said. Mr. Bollinger had learned about them only Monday evening, she said.

The remark raised a small tempest on a Fordham football Web site, on which
one writer said that if someone from Fordham made an anti-Semitic or
anti-Asian comment, it would have drawn more attention.

Other writers denounced the moral character of Columbia students. "I'd
like to punch out a few of the punks on their band," one wrote. Another
promised to tear up any Columbia risumis crossing his desk.

But Fordham officials said they saw no need to seek an apology. Its
president, the Rev. Joseph A. O'Hare, said he was confident that
Columbia's administration would act appropriately.

"Believe it or not, this is not the most important thing that has happened
in the life of Fordham," he said. Father O'Hare said he was at the game
but did not hear the comment, because he had long ago stopped paying
attention to Ivy League halftime band performances, which are often
satirical roastings of the other school.

"It's typical of Ivy Leaguers to make fun of a Catholic school's
strait-laced reputation," he said. "They're very self-important little
creatures."

While a fairly isolated event, the comment and anger it provoked
encapsulated the sense of vulnerability many Catholics feel over the
priest sexual-abuse scandal, and the failure of many bishops to act.

Ms. Kennedy said she was a practicing Catholic with an uncle and friends
who are priests. She said she had been upset by the damaging disclosures
this year about priests who sexually abused minors. "It's been an
exhausting process to have to defend the Catholic faith," she said.

Ms. Kennedy said she had collected 120 signatures on her petition.

But Rebecca Cooper, the executive editor of The Fordham Ram, the campus
newspaper, said she thought many others at the university would shrug off
the comment. "I think that Fordham students would probably have been more
offended because they were making fun of Fordham."

Mr. Donohue said it was the first game-time razzing of a Catholic
university that had come to his attention since the scandal emerged this
year.

He said that five years ago, Stanford University's band staged a mock
battle between a Catholic cardinal and the devil and parodied the Irish
famine during a game against Notre Dame. Stanford's athletic director
later apologized.

Columbia won 13-11 Saturday on a field goal with 10.5 seconds left in the
annual matchup, the Liberty Cup.