New University of Tennessee president John Petersen narrowly avoided a move last week that would have made the job-ending indiscretions of his predecessors seem like parking tickets in the eyes of Vol faithful.
As his first official act as the Top Vol, sources say Petersen was prepared to ban the playing of "Rocky Top" at UT sporting events on the grounds that its lyrics are offensive.
"I'm not sure he had ever heard the song before," a source says. "I'm sure he'd never really listened to the words, and when he did he was shocked."
"Rocky Top," written by famed songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, has been a staple at Vol events for at least a quarter-century. The peppy bluegrass number celebrates, among other pursuits of mountain life, moonshining and the apparent death of a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms revenue agent.
"This is a song that glories in drug dealingwhich is what moonshining and bootlegging areand seems to take joy in the death of a law enforcement officer," a staggered Petersen told close aides. "How can I allow this incitement to lawlessness to be used at our games?"
With his tenure at UT measured only in hours at that point, it was touch and go for Petersen.
"Well, [J. Wade] Gilley might have had a relationship with a subordinate, and [John] Shumaker might have spent a fortune flying around in the school plane," says one observer in Knoxville, "but at least they left 'Rocky Top' alone. This guy would have been toast."
Fortunately for Petersen's reputation among UT faithful, a couple of the university's board members took him aside and explained the tradition and power of the song.
"To his credit, he got it immediately," says one of the board members who spoke to Petersen. "I told him, 'This is an official state song of Tennessee.' I mean, sure, it has illegal drugs and killing law officers in it, but it's not really offensive. It's not as though all the UT fans are singing gangsta rap or anything."
(The Fabricator is satire. Don't believe everything you read.)
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