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.