Badly behaving debaters

Via my google read, I came across this Chronicle of Higher Ed article, “Debate Coach Fired and Team Suspended After Mooning.” Here are the first couple paragraphs of the article:

Fort Hays State University fired a professor and debate coach on Friday, just weeks after video surfaced on YouTube of his dropping his shorts in front of judges at a national tournament. The university also suspended its debate team, one of the best in the country, over concerns that the collegiate-debate circuit had become too uncivilized.

The coach, William Shanahan III, a professor of communication, got into a shouting match with a judge—and at one point briefly dropped his shorts and exposed his underwear—during the national tournament this past spring of the Cross Examination Debate Association.

The New York Times had a similar article. And here’s a pretty good commentary on the piece, “No ifs, ands, butts about civil debate.”

Curiously, both articles lack a couple of key links. First, there is the video– yes, actual video at the debate– of the event in question:

There are a variety of different remixes and such on YouTube too. It wasted my morning, I can tell you that.

The actual mooning event happens quickly (I didn’t see it the first time through) and at about the 36-37 second mark. Though the video goes on for quite a while after that. I watched about three minutes and then scanned through the rest. To be honest, I can’t really tell what the argument/fight here is about– I am guessing a disagreement about a decision. One article I read said it happened after the quarter final round. Note that the screaming match involves people saying “fuck” quite a bit.

And it turns out that Professor Shanahan has a blog, though he hasn’t updated it since June.

To me, it looks like these folks have just gone kind of nuts, cracking under the pressure of a big tournament, and– this is just a guess– sleep deprivation. These late tournament rounds often don’t begin until well into the evening after a full day of competition. And you have to remember that debate at this level is as much of a competitive and intense an event as the game to play into the “final four” at the NCAA basketball tournament. When I was in high school and college debate 20+ years ago, I saw plenty of arguments where an occasional “f bomb” was thrown. So in the broad sense, I don’t think the idea of a near brawl breaking out is that weird.

Still, just as you don’t routinely see basketball coaches throwing chairs across the court, you don’t usually see arguing coaches/debaters dropping their pants, if even briefly.

I also think this video is ample evidence of something that every academic already knows: just because you are a professor and you have a PhD doesn’t mean you are above behaving badly.

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