On its most well-behaved day, the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (that’s long-form for Stanford) is what would happen if someone watched the Bluto Blutarsky guitar scene from “Animal House” and thought, “What if we turned that into a concert?”
They’re more of an anti-band, dedicated to trolling the opposition as much as making music, with the kind of performances seemingly inspired by those 5 AM conversations in college that start with the phrase, “Bro, wouldn’t it be funny if…”
As such, the band’s number one goal is to get a rise out of the crowd, and it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s positive or negative. In a way, they’re kind of like an army of marching Andy Kaufmans—with a dancing tree mascot that looks like a third grade class had an art project called “nightmare fuel.”
Their history includes a halftime show mocking Oregon’s logging industry for destroying endangered spotted owl habitats and a satiric take on the Notre Dame mascot called “These Irish, Why Must They Fight?” that included send-ups of the Irish potato famine and a Catholic archbishop. This naturally led to them getting banned from performing at both schools.
But perhaps their favorite target is BYU. For these musical agents of chaos, a self-important religious institution that forces college students to conform to an “honor code” serves as an ideal straight man—in every sense of the term.
At halftime during a 2004 Stanford/BYU game, the band put out a sketch mocking polygamy with their dancers wearing bridal veils. It was low-hanging fruit but BYU took the bait and (ironically enough) raised hell, forcing the Stanford administration to apologize.
So when the two schools finally met again this year, the band decided to try and top themselves.
They did so by staging a game of “gay chicken” that culminated in two women getting married to one another. And when they came to the ceremony part of the sketch, the wedding official quoted text from traditional Mormon nuptials such as “may you be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.”
That’s when BYU fans started booing. Which is usually not part of the Mormon wedding ceremony.
After the performance kicked up the intended controversy, Stanford’s Athletic Department issued yet another apology to BYU, stating among other things that “some of the language that was used in Saturday’s halftime show did not reflect Stanford University’s values of religious freedom and diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”
But in reality, the language that was used in the halftime show was lifted directly from the Book of Genesis and was considered by some Mormon elders to be God’s commandment “first in sequence and first in importance.” By definition, if BYU fans objected to that language, they’d be disagreeing with the actual word of God.
What they didn’t like was the context: the Stanford Band was trying to provoke BYU by staging a same-sex wedding with language significant to the Mormon church.
On the one hand, it felt like the band was using our community as a prop to troll the opposing team. There was definitely an element of “here are two women in love pledging a lifelong commitment to one another…hey BYU, aren’t you totally owned?!”
But the bigger takeaway was still BYU fans showing their true colors: the idea of a same-sex couple getting married under the authority of their church was so repugnant to them that they started booing like Swifties being introduced to the CEO of Ticketmaster. Their reaction underscored that a culture of less-than-full acceptance — that LGBTQ alumni like runner Emma Gee has written about in harrowing detail — is still a driving force at BYU today.
And Stanford chose to apologize to them, with band leadership adding that they “will forever stand against homophobia.”
The Stanford Daily spoke to three currently enrolled Mormon students on campus and their reaction was best summed up by Latter-day Saints Student Association member Buddy Noorlander: “I don’t know what the fuss is about. The gripes about the halftime show from a few members seem to run contrary to how even the church itself responds to things like this.”
While the Stanford band’s attempt at satire was a swing and a miss, the whole episode shows that some BYU fans don’t want to deal with the fact that a large portion of the country finds their university’s treatment of LGBTQ people objectionable. In spite of this, there are many powerful people in college sports who will still insulate them from criticism if their church’s feelings get hurt along the way.
That’s way more objectionable than anything the dancing tree could come up with.