Debate coaches scream at each other

(UPDATE: The YouTube video was pulled, but Live Leak has the same video, embedded above)

Can you spot where Robert's Rules or Order are broken during this argument between two university debate coaches? (Salty language and underwear mooning in video).

In the quarterfinal of 2008 CEDA (Cross Examination Debate Association) Nationals, the RFD erupts into a heated exchange of words between Pittsburgh coach Shanara Reid and Fort Hays coach William Shanahan.
Debate coaches lose cool, 1 pulls down his pants (via Arbroath)


  1. “I think I can best illustrate my point by quoting the great Martin Luther King, Jr., who said ‘Your mother is ****** ******* ***** of ******, *** **** **** ballsack!'”

  2. The argument started over the fact that the Fort (ft. hays, coached by bill) struck Towson’s coach as a judge (meaning they picked her and others as people they couldn’t possibly have as judges which is sanctioned by the tournament). Bill is fucking crazy anyway and Shanara’s complaints about the racism implicit in her striking set him off, hence the moon. Bill once called me a terrorist at DDI, so watching this brings back fond memories. Oh, and Bill can more or less take credit for inventing the kritik as a debate argument.

  3. “Oh, this is verbal abuse, arguments are down the hall”.

    Who says Monty Python doesn’t have a line for every situation?

  4. s t s ngry blck wmn ss rc crd nd ngry wht gy gts ngrr bcs th rc crd ws sd. Cntnt rlly sn’t sgnfcnt bynd tht.

  5. also….best impromptu standing on a chair speech with someone crying in the backround youtube clip of 2008.

  6. I can’t believe I watched all 8:55 of that. I started to lose interest after about minute 6, but the sobbing that started at 7:25 was worth the wait.

    By the way, Freshyill (#2) wins.

  7. “accelerating our dissonance”

    Love it. I once heard a teacher say, ” Let’s crystalize our facets.”

  8. 5:10: “I have right the speak I have no way the she center you makin out the …. STRIKE! she if we’re not ranking you highly. You know?”
    Ah, a classic use of Cicero’s technique of baiting your opponent into a logical fallacy through gibberish. Well done, Mr. Shanahan.

  9. @7 I still don’t get the whole concept of striking, could you explain it in laymans terms? I was never in debate, I was the band geek :)

  10. I just got home from work… the last thing I need in my life is more overheated acrimony and bitter awkwardness. 2 seconds of that clip was too much…

  11. Wild Bill FTW! He was my lab leader at the inaugural session of UT’s summer debate institute. I just don’t know how he could stand the searing hot mid-summer Texas sidewalks on his bare feet…

  12. @20 – debate tournaments have a pool of judges. Debate teams are allowed to strike a certain number of judges, guaranteeing that these judges won’t be judging their debate rounds. Bad experiences w/ judges in past rounds, school rivalries, different judging philosophies, etc. are reasons teams might want to strike certain judges.

  13. # 19 anonymous:

    Where is that? At 5:10 I just hear Bill saying “I have no problem with that,” and then asking if Shanara wants to know why he struck her.

  14. Gotta say, now that I know what a kritik is, I don’t care for it. I thought the point of debate was reasoned argument and research, not deconstructionist philosophy.

  15. drivel. I thought debate was people arguing in a civilized manner. And for two coaches to act like this!?! I’d be embarrassed to be on either of these teams.

  16. If you’re familiar with CEDA (or as it’s sometimes called in high school, “policy debate”), you’ll realize that this isn’t altogether unfamiliar. Everyone has a crazy debate story. Just look at the nonchalance exhibited by the other CEDA vets in this thread alone. “Oh, that Bill!”

    This is why I avoided debate in college. In high school it’s intense enough, at the college level things just get freaking INSANE.

  17. Bill was my lab leader at Bates. Still the hell raiser. Was the big guy calming everyone down the charlotte latin guy? I can’t remember his name. Wow, this really brings back memories!

  18. another fine example that what you learn in school (civilized debate in this case) rarely translates into reality (two people “resolving” an issue and preparing to jack each other up).

  19. I can’t get enough of the screeching, mooning hippie telling the chick “YOU MADE MY PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE!”

    You’d think that after having him as a coach, you’d be inured to anything.

  20. Glossolalia Black, any time someone accuses someone else of racism, you are allowed to dismiss them as “playing the race card” without further argument. Like calling someone PC, it’s a Get Out of Logic Free card.

  21. I always wanted to do debate as a kid, because I thought it meant I got to argue like this for no good reason. I lost interest when my parents said I couldn’t yell.

    Totally should have done it.

  22. man, that video was awesome. I never saw anything that cool happen when I was on scholastic team (we didn’t have debate).

  23. I find it refreshing that both coaches care this much about what they are doing. A lot of my professors seemed not to care about anything, except getting home at the end of the day.

  24. FYI, the coaches in CEDA are usually not university professors doing it on the side, they are hired professional coaches who live and breathe the debate scene. Which is probably why they care so much.

  25. Wow. I hope these aren’t actual University
    Professors. “F– y-” and “F- that”.. etc.. How absolutely pathetic.

  26. @13: That’s just one of the many things that makes Bill the character he is. As I believe someone has already said, he basically invented using kritiks in debate (an impressive feat). He also has a kid with long hair like his who runs around without shoes.

  27. I love the parts where they’re in full duplex mode– both talking at the same time, and responding to what they’re hearing. Maybe not listening very well, but enough to jump to the next rhetorical point.

    It would be nice to see a transcript.

  28. I’ve nothing clever to add (2, 4, 10 already accomplished that for me). The actual yelling is not what I find interesting in this video. It’s the reaction of the crowd watching. I confess, I’ve witnessed and participated in yelling matches as intense as this. Up to about 1 minute most of the audience sits there and watches as if this were planned, a part of what they are trying to learn. Once the “fight” goes into the audience people begin to scurry and move. One man says “there’s something wrong here”. This is more fascinating than the actual initial first minute. I’m sure this can be mapped out (has it been?). A crowd’s reaction to something, some disruption, an incursion that wakes.

  29. #30 is pretty much on target here. I was in forensics in high school (read: a couple years ago) and while Policy wasn’t my thing (I was an LDer) the policy teams at my school had various wild stories. Swearing and shouting wasn’t rare at all. I think the surprise over this admittedly over the top clip has a lot to do with the massive gulf between what forensics is actually like and how the public perceives it.

    @28 Where I debated, kritiks were still a little controversial among some judges. In my experience, while kritiks can be done very wrong (reading random Foucault essays at lightspeed) they can be a pretty insightful way to approach debate.

  30. Glossolalia Black, any time someone accuses someone else of racism, you are allowed to dismiss them as “playing the race card” without further argument. Like calling someone PC, it’s a Get Out of Logic Free card.

    S, vn f smbdy s jst syng rcst whn thr s n vdnc f t, y rn’t llwd t cll thm n t?? Hh. ‘m jst gng t cll rcst n vrythng thn. Sms lk sr thng.

  31. Thank you for posting the mirror, because not soon after it was posted on boing boing it was pulled (who else is noticing videos are not available on youtube, what is that about?). It quickly went (this comment is censored) from gender, to race to how one constructs oneself socially in front of others.

  32. Just a bit more to add to the back story. The argument starts after the RFD (reason for decision) gets delivered by the 3rd judge of the 3 judge panel (the decision was 2 to 1) gets delivered.

    The argument Townson makes in their affirmative speech is one about race and how the current system of college policy debate (NDT CEDA) is set up in a way that protects white privilege and removes different views. Townson then choose to use the fact that Fort Hayes struck Shanera, the only female african american judge of the possible 5 judges for the round (before the round each of the two teams gets to choose 1 judge they would like not to judge the elimination round, at least in CEDA and NDT elimination rounds, Townson likewise struck a different judge from the 5 to arrive at the 3 person panel) as part of their argument in the round.

    The judges later get into a minor argument about whether the striking of that judge is pretext or not and begin to argue with each other a bit which eventually spills over into the coaches. In reality that particular argument doesn’t really play a huge huge part in the round another more complex issue cements the decision. For those not afraid of a technical and fast paced college debate round you can watch the round that lead up to the argument and the first 2 judge decisions here:

    The reason nobody really reacts though, is that everybody for the most part realizes that no real violence is going to come from that argument, both individuals are just rather vocal people. Its just embarrassing that the two chose to take it so far. That type of behavior is in no way typical for the activity and definitely isn’t supported. The original video probably really shouldn’t have been posted. We in the community don’t want everybody to think that occurs often (our universities wouldn’t want to fund us if it did!)

  33. debate team coaches goen wild

    I could hardly hear what people were saying but I don’t think this was an over night sorta explosion by any long shot

    that said, the guy saying “I don’t feel I’ve acted immaturely” after mooning the crowd is kinda funny

  34. Being perfectly honest, college debate seems like an alogical hellhole of gamesmanship, productive of nothing but rancor, strikes and head-banging.

  35. That was so melodramatic! It further solidifies my belief that we love to fight, and that’s why war hasn’t gone away and probably won’t. Call the reality show “Debate Survivor” or some shit.

  36. As a kid who debated for four years in high school in Utah, I gotta say this: Bill Shanahan changed debate in this country. He’s totally nuts. He is also freaking brilliant.

  37. #62 AMEN. Agreed wholeheartedly.
    #63 There is a great documentary about debate already out, called Resolved. It even covers racism in debate, apparently a hot issue here.
    #65 Did Bill change it for the better? It doesn’t look like any kind of extracurricular activity I would ever want to be a part of. I’ll stick to Academic Decathalon. Thanks Bill.
    #66 Dido.

  38. I don’t know if I’ve missed something in this thread – but surely someone who jumps up and down, calls themself an a-hole, then moons his opponent is not worthy of being listened to as a rational adult?

    Although this was a spectacular demonstration of failing to engage in constructive problem solving – it might be more of a job for the Supernanny than any other university department.

    Did Socrates ever moon someone to try to win an argument?

  39. DAMN YOU BOING BOOIIINNNNGGGGG!!!!!! I’ve now spent an inordinate amount of time trying to understand debate clubs. Fail. This is a bizarre world. As for the vid in question, she started something with someone apparently well known for explosive behavior. There must be some unexplored history between those two. Anyway, I definitely feel better about my own behavior; at the very least I’ve yet to moon anyone during an argument. As far as his agreeing with her opinion that he is an asshole; always beware of anyone who will not admit they are an asshole, as it is the one thing we all have in common at one time or another.

  40. There is a debate doc that was on HBO, but I only saw a small portion of it a while back:

    Watching this and the link above that documents the portion of debate leading to the fight was interesting. I never realized the activity involved spitting out your argument as fast as possible. How do you judge an argument no one has time to process?

  41. #67 Thanks for the link. I guess I’ll have to read a little more. I don’t get the concept of speed-arguing.

  42. #67 – Yeah I would say he changed it for the better. He introduced the kritik, a controversial but incredibly interesting type of position that can really broaden the scope of your thinking, not just in the very limited range of the resolution, but in the broader sense of your worldview.

    If debate is about teaching critical thinking skills to young people (and thats its fundamental goal, most people agree), then the kritik is a really good addition to the canon. The kritik forces you to not just address the other side’s case on a point by point basis but to consider the larger more philosophical assumptions the other side is making and refute those. It has allowed a whole world of thinking into the debate round. While some argue that that takes the emphasis off the resolution and the specificity of the topic, I don’t think anyone will argue that the kritik doesn’t teach people to think critically on a whole range of different issues.

    All the stuff about talking fast, the craziness of people like Bill Shanahan, the idea that the affirmative would run a meta-argument about racism in an actual round in an attempt to win the round, that’s all the product of an evolving culture. We often look at folks like cosplayers in equally negative terms. But just because the man is insane and behaved shamefully doesn’t mean he hasn’t made meaningful contributions to the sport.

  43. the point of speed debating is to get in as many arguments as possible, which increases education via volume of information. while you may not be able to keep up, rest assured everyone in that room can.

    #59, thanks for the summary.

    #28, Kritiks are both reasoned arguments (often more logical than Disads which have strange causal chains) and require research. They’re also not always “deconstructionist,” in fact the vast majority aren’t anymore. I used to run Marxism almost every neg round because I believed in it and found it interesting, and if that makes for bad debate then I wouldn’t have done debate at all and wouldn’t have read Foucault, Deleuze & Guattari, Lacan, etc…

  44. A little background on speed in debate:

    Speed in debate rounds is a form of nuclear proliferation. At some point someone got the bright idea that they can win rounds by making as many arguments as possible in the allotted time, essentially spreading the opponent too thin and requiring them to answer too many arguments. At some point your opponent will skip one or cover one too thinly or just run out of time, which gives you an opening. You then drop all your arguments except that one and go to town. You would end up sacrificing “speaker points” (points given to individual speakers for their eloquence) but that wouldn’t really matter since you would usually win. To defend against that other teams got faster, and then faster, and faster, and so on.

    At first speed was a really controversial thing – I remember debating in high school against teams that didn’t use it and with judges that would vote against you if you used it. But over time as more speed debaters grew up and became judges and coaches it has generally been an accepted part of the debate round.

    And it’s not that hard to understand or process. Like Shakespeare, it takes a certain amount of time to get your ear used to hearing it and then it’s pretty straightforward. Speed is also generally used more when reading evidence as opposed to making your own arguments. You’re required to read aloud all your evidence, usually in the form of a paragraph or two per point. This takes up precious time, so you read the evidence as quickly as possible. It’s not hard to read something out loud really quickly. When a round begins everyone is just throwing piles of evidence at each other at breakneck speed, but by the second half of the round the pace has slowed considerably. It’s still pretty fast, but since the arguments being made are no longer based on evidence but rather based on the back-and-forth in the round it’s less straight reading and more on-the-fly. Of course in a college round of this caliber it’s super fast all over the place.

  45. When I went to debate damp years ago in high school Bill Shanahan; the same on in the video; was one of the counselors. one night he bribed his debate lab with pizzas so he and his wife could go see the Dead in concert. Later that night we heard some commotion in the courtyard to the dorms. It was Bill. He was having a bad and very loud trip (yes i mean LSD or Mushrooms) in the courtyard. He also famously had an argument similar in tone and volume to this one with the head of the debate camp in morning asembly. He is a loud obnoxious hippie. Needless to say we all loved him feircly. Bill’s heart is in the right place. His mind might just have been moved around a bit over the years.

  46. Had I been there, I would have been really annoyed with that woman who got on the chair at the end. She yelled at everybody except the two people who actually caused the problem. Everyone else seemed to be acting maturely and professionally. Why did they have to be shouted at by that self-important harpy?

    Also, I’m with Marrz: the best part is when the guy who just pulled his pants down says he’s not acting immaturely.

  47. This guy brought kritiks into CX? As a Texas debater I’ve run into more than a few of his students… and beaten my share. In my experience, and in the opinion of my former coach, in lower ranges of debate, kritiks tend to become abusive for CX. The problem is that it off-balances the voters for the the judge. Now, I understand if such points are needing to be voiced, but in practice, from what I’ve seen, they often are misused and aren’t actually something you can argue within grounds of the case and can be taken down with a question to topicality.

    On the grounds of people being shocked at the content of the argument: debaters are a different brand of people. In debate, it’s not unusual to see informal arguments carried out in duplex with reasonable amounts of profanity. Debaters are some of the people who can swear a blue-string and expand your mind at the same time. The disappointing thing is the level on which these two conduct themselves. I understand if they’re arguing, but the jumping up and down and physical nature of it goes beyond ethical standards for debaters.

  48. Wow. All the reasons I didn’t debate after High School: Insular Insanity(tm). I knew of Bill when I lived up Hays. He certainly doesn’t embellish for export.

    The part that _really_ cracks me up: I had to look up the ‘kritik’ reference, to find out what he had ‘invented.’

    Oh, for f*cks sake. We used to run that kind of stuff as a binding overview w/ an underview when I debated for Clear Lake High (Houston TX, right down the road from Austin) in the late 70s – early 80s. We used to win rounds with it then.

    I am not Anonymous, but I am Mike Nagy.

  49. People who think that the most important thing about a debate is whether or not you’re declared the winner have obviously not won enough arguments for the novelty to wear off. Any fool can win. All you have to do is follow the basic rules of debate, and compete against unworthy opponents. But if that were all debate consisted of, no one would ever do it.

Comments are closed.