Rome SHOULD be Burning

On New Years Day, CBS Sports Commentator, Jim Rome, was commentating a football game and tweeted this:


Really?!?!? After being slammed in Twitter for his ill-advised tweet, he deleted the original one (oh, the but the internet is forever thanks to some of those “dorks” I’m sure) and offered the following “apology”:


Yes, Mr. Rome, that certainly was your intent. You see, it’s always been ok to bully band kids. You see, we are the “weird” ones, with no athletic ability, so being the butt of jokes and bullying is standard practice for us “dorks.” Except we do have incredible abilities, athletic and otherwise.

I can speak for two of the last three decades. I was a band kid, a woodwind player, in the 1980’s. I was proud to be one, despite the bullying. I spent the end of my summer vacation, every summer, sweating on a high school parking lot, marching sets over and over and over again, practicing hours before and after school during the season, learning the following “dorky” skill sets:

1. Music memorization. We were not allowed to march with our music after the first 2 days of band camp. It isn’t just a few notes, but full pieces of music. And it’s not just remember the notes, but the fingerings on the instrument, embouchure (mouth positioning to make the sounds from an instrument) and notations from the music about how loud or soft to play. That takes brain power.

2. Playing music, in tune, while moving, in all kinds of weather. It’s more difficult than you think. Actually, staying in tune while sitting still in a climate controlled room is difficult enough. Add movement and it’s quite a feat. Movement changes breathing, posture and heart rate. Now add in either stifling heat, freezing cold, rain or snow and it is a concerted effort to keep that instrument in tune. Our season starts in that August heat and continues into mid-November cold. Heat makes notes go flat, cold, sharp. We had to know how to keep instruments warm and how to adjust our playing to keep in tune.

3. Marching. It’s also not as easy as it looks. Let’s examine that, shall we? It’s not just walking forward. It’s walking forward, backwards, sideways in time to the music being played and all in step. Try and get a few kids in step, it’s not easy. My band had more than 100 kids in it. Some playing instruments, brass, woodwinds and percussion, some spinning various pieces of equipment. All in step, in tune and spinning in concert.

4. Spinning that equipment. I didn’t understand when I was in band how difficult that actually was. Today it’s even more difficult. Our band front, called a color guard today, had separate groups: Silks (long poled flags), swing flags (two short, small flags), rifles and majorettes. They stuck with their equipment. Each type of equipment has its own skill set in how to spin, toss and catch it all at the same time as every other member. Today the color guard switches up equipment. That means “guardies” as they like to be called have multiple skill sets.

5. Teamwork. No one thinks of marching band as a team sport, but it is. Even more than any other team sport. If one person is missing or out of step/tune, it affects every other member of the band. If a second or third stringer is missing from the sports teams the rest of the team can still play just as well and win. One missing band kid can throw off an entire line and affect the score the entire band gets. There are no “stars,” everyone is equally important.

6. Lines. We were expected to keep lines straight, while playing music and remembering where we were supposed to be moving towards. We used the same hash marks, lines and field markings as the football players. We had to learn, and memorize, how many steps, what direction, and how quickly we needed to get from one marking to another, all while keeping lines straight or arcs arched. It takes good peripheral vision, timing and thought processes. All while working on remembering notes, embouchure and breathing to keep music in tune. Continuously for a 7-10 minute show.

7. Lastly, throw in the stress of competition. The stress of judges standing on the field, sometimes in your way, knowing you can’t move out of their way or you’ll be penalized. Judges in the stands listening for musical mistakes, watching for spinning and marching mistakes. The thrill of standing waiting for scores and placement, at attention, not able to jump up and down for joy at winning or cry or rage in defeat. After watching the spiking arrogance of football players after every good play there is no way they could stand at attention and keep that pride, joy, happiness, sorrow, anger or whatever other emotion happens inside. No way they could stand at attention and show respect to every other “dork” that crossed that field that night. No trash talk allowed. We represent our school and program, so our behavior on and off the field is scrutinized.

All this so that the football players can diss us, throw footballs at us as we finish up our halftime show at football games and together with the cheerleaders and other kids, bully us at school.

I remember my senior year that my band was undefeated. No one could beat us. Our football team, on the other hand, couldn’t win to save their lives. I had to go to the principal and BEG him to give the band some props in morning announcements, or on the board outside the school. It never happened. The athletes and cheerleaders (with the very few exceptions of 3 or 4 of our band front girls who also cheered) constantly made fun of us, on and off the field. Being called a “band geek” or “dork” were the nice terms. Their favorite name to hurl at us was “band fag.” After a few seasons, I wore the name as a badge of honor. Those jerks had no idea of what it took to be in band, no idea how much pride our achievements gave us.

In the 90’s and early 2000’s I was out of the band world. My college didn’t have a band and then I was getting married and starting a family. However, one of the former staff members from my daughter’s school band was. He was a student and later an instructor for the same school program and has this to say in a facebook post about the Rome kerfuffle (the comments in parentheses are mine):

“The thing that cracks me up is how out of touch he really is. In the 15 years I was a part of the activity, the climate has changed an awful lot. No area more than the support of arts have and the support received from the school and their peers at large.

There was a huge stigma about doing marching band when I was in school. By the time I was in my 3rd year of teaching, there was a large shift. Sure, the band will always be a safe haven for those students who were a little off center… The social castoffs if you will. However, the biggest difference was the recognition they began receiving for their efforts and achievements. By the time I left (school name removed), the program had 10 state championships in 12 years… It took all the schools athletic programs (football, baseball, lacrosse, track, softball, tennis, basketball…) during the same duration to achieve 15. We were able to do it with no feeder programs, club teams, or even prior musical experience. Literally, every year we teach someone a new instrument and how to coordinate their body, control their core muscles, and stabilize their breathing and heart rate. All this so they can be a part of a larger whole. And their absence, however brief, is always noticed.

My point is, each student sharpens skills that will help them forward in life. Each club or team teaches you focus and determination, but no other activity teaches you attention to detail and the ability to work as a team like marching band. Especially small bands like (school name removed). Comments like Jim Rome’s are to be expected. As his comment kind of suggested, he was expecting people in band to have a reaction. It’s the same bullying effect he got off on in high school. How quickly people forget though, the bands are usually much larger than the football team. Their community is much larger. The hours the students spend honing their “dorky” craft are often closely matched by the hours spent by parent chaperones, educators, designers, and pit-pops (parents who help move equipment on and off the field). And because this is an activity of inclusion, this is a community that is ever growing. Most people that have done band can find someone else who has done band and share at least one similar story. One night of freezing on a parking lot in the middle of nowhere.

He picked on the wrong dorks.”

Today, I am the parent of another band kid. My daughter, Meghan, is not only a musician, but is also in the color guard. As far as marching band goes, she spins 6 foot flags, wooden rifles and sabres while dancing and moving across the field of competition. Her first year I watched her be switched at the last minute from color guard, where she was comfortable and trained, to “pit” or the percussion and musicians at the front of the field who don’t move. She, a self-taught piano player, was moved to keyboard, and at the very last minute before the season started, had another instrument she had never played, vibraphone (a huge xylophone for all you non-dorks), thrown into her repertoire with 4 days to learn 4 pieces of music. She handled it like a pro. She also plays oboe in symphonic band. This year during warm ups prior to a competition, in freezing cold rain, she was hit in the face with her rifle when she couldn’t catch it properly with freezing cold, wet hands. The rifle ripped up her mouth and forced a tooth through her bottom lip. She performed in competition an hour later. How many pro football players continue bloodied and bruised to finish a game instead of being carried off the field or bowing out? Other kids in her band marched after battling cancer or other illnesses or injuries for a season. I’ll take those brave, strong, smart “dorks” over famed athletes any day and twice on Sunday.

My son, Eric, ran track. He too spent hours of practice honing his skills: running, breathing, jumping. Track, however, is really not a team sport. It’s a sport that gives points to the team for the achievements of the “stars” those who place in the top 3 or 4 places of their event. Other teams, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, also rely on the achievements of the “stars” and if those who aren’t stars are missing it still doesn’t affect the whole team. Not to discount their achievements, because those kids work hard too. But they don’t get bullied for being “dorks.”

Band kids work harder, get less recognition and bullied for their trouble.

I also volunteered and worked as staff for the non-profit that runs the circuit my daughter’s band competes in. I see hundreds, probably thousands, of kids a season working and competing just as hard. This year alone I saw a band with two blind kids. Marching. Their director said that this year they marched with a guide behind them to help them find their way across the field, but next year they will march unaided. It is, after all, just a lot of muscle memory once memorized. Blind kids don’t play football.

And those “dorks”? Well, as a whole, band kids are smarter, achieve more academically and go further in life. If you look at your average band kid, there are more kids taking honors and AP classes than athletes. Studies have shown this hands down that kids who play instruments have better reading and language skills, do better at math and science, have higher intelligence and benefit with better memory, social skills, confidence and other ways.

But music programs in our schools are the first to be cut. Parents foot the bills for instruments that costs thousands of dollars. We pay fees much higher than sports parents so our children can participate. My son cost me $200 a year for his track participation. My daughter costs me $700 (for marching band and indoor color guard). How many kids are kept out of participation in an activity that so obviously benefits them in multiples ways because parents can’t afford it? From the 1980’s when I was in band until today budgets were slashed to the point where parents have to pay. My mother didn’t. We had some fundraising, but there were no fees to be in band. Now we fundraise constantly AND pay fees. All because music in schools is so much less important than athletics.

These same intelligent, great kids go onto college in droves. They succeed without the need for tutors and the “wink and nod” pass them on that college athletes get, and go on to be highly successful people. I look at the parents of our band kids, especially the ones who were band kids too (yes, it tends to run in families!) and see engineers, lawyers, paralegals, doctors, physical therapists, nurses, biomedical researchers… Yet it’s still acceptable to call these smart, well adjusted, hardworking confident kids names and “pooh pooh” their accomplishments.

Well, Mr. Rome, your slander of us as “dorks” was intentional and completely misplaced. I’m relatively sure your “apology” wasn’t done truly and never would have been made had the millions of us “band geeks” not called you to the carpet. You, sir, are a bully, and the worst kind. You could use your influence to talk about how much of a good thing it is for kids to run “around with their instruments” instead of making fun of them. But you won’t.

And CBS Sports? You should also offer an apology, fund some of those music programs and fire Jim Rome. But you won’t either. No matter, we will succeed without you and to spite you. That’s what us “dorks” do.


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