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Wed, March 20

Kobritz: Lynn Swann silences song girls
Beyond the Lines

USC athletic director Lynn Swann has accomplished much in his life – Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, TV broadcaster and game show host, candidate for Pennsylvania Governor, to name a few. He’s also made a few controversial statements and decisions, but perhaps none more so than one he made last fall.

In November, Swann banned the USC Song Girls from performing at Trojan basketball games. The group was founded 50 years ago to cheer for the men’s and women’s basketball teams and is also a fixture at football games. The 12-woman spirit group – wearing white sweaters, red shoes, and flashing gold pompoms - is synonymous with the USC brand around the globe.

There are multiple theories why the Song Girls were bounced from the arena, beginning with the existence of the Trojan Dance Force. The Force was established in 1994 to support USC basketball, a move prompted by the Trojan Marching Band’s criticism of the Song Girls dancing to piped-in music rather than the band’s own tunes. However, in a curious twist of irony, the Force prefers dancing to canned hip-hop music, rather than the band’s song list. For the past 25 years, the two groups have coexisted, and although they have vied for the spotlight at basketball games, the performers always got along personally.

Worse than the decision to eliminate the Song Girls was Swann’s refusal to take responsibility for his actions. In response to a letter written by Lauren Chespak, captain of the 2007 Song Girls, seeking an explanation for her group’s termination, Swann blamed others for the decision. “USC Athletics and the Division of Student Affairs jointly made the decision,” he said, blaming others for an order he signed.

Swann’s letter to Chespak also quoted from an earlier news release that said the decision to eliminate the Song Girls was made “after trying various options over multiple years to accommodate both the Song Girls and the Trojan Dance Force.” He went on to say, “Due to ongoing game management concerns, time constraints and space issues at (the arena), the USC Song Girls will not perform at the remaining men’s and women’s basketball games for the 2018-19 season.”

Underlying Swann’s order to ban the Song Girls is his controversial decision to retain football coach Clay Helton, a move roundly criticized by alumni, donors and the campus community. According to spectators at USC's home football game against Notre Dame in November, two Song Girls were observed participating in a "fire Helton" chant, typical behavior for a student, but poor judgment for someone representing the University. Shortly thereafter, Swann signed the order to banish the girls from the sidelines during basketball games.

Was there a connection between the ban and the “fire Helton” chant or were the two actions merely coincidental? Only Swann knows for certain, but the timing is problematic, at best. What is indisputable is Swann’s leadership skills on the gridiron didn’t translate to his role as Athletic Director of his alma mater.

Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu.

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