Recent complaints address Naked Mile safety

By Adam Brian Cohen
Daily Staff Reporter

Since the early 1970s, sophomore students at Princeton University have gathered in a campus courtyard on the eve of the first snowfall of the year to participate in the Nude Olympics, an evening of naked festivities.

But a week and a half ago, Princeton President Harold Shapiro submitted a letter to The Daily Princetonian expressing his intent to end the Nude Olympics because of alcohol-related problems following this year's event and other safety issues surrounding the tradition.

"I am simply not willing to wait until a student dies before taking preventive action," Shapiro, who served as president of the University of Michigan in the 1980's, wrote in his Jan. 11 letter to Princeton's student newspaper.

Concerns similar to Shapiro's now have Ann Arbor questioning the safety of it's own nude tradition - the Naked Mile, which began in 1986 when members of the Michigan men's crew and track teams peeled off their clothes and ran down campus streets to

 
SARA SCHENCK/Daily
Richard Nadon, an Ann Arbor resident, has filed a class-action lawsuit against people who harmed him and other videographers during last year's Naked Mile.
mark the last day of class.

Through the years, the teams gained company, and the simple jog became a nationally recognized tradition.

"Last year, there were about 600 runners and 10,000 spectators," said Department of Public Safety Sgt. Benny Chenevert.

Among the thousands was Ann Arbor resident Richard Nadon, a videographer who was involved in an altercation while taping last year's mile. That dispute was settled out of court.

Now Nadon is organizing a class-action suit against the people who harmed him and other video recorders in the Naked Mile last year.

"All of a sudden, this wave of people came at me while I was all by my lonesome," Nadon said.

"In court, there's no defense for smacking someone's video equipment or body in this sort of case," he added.

Although no formal steps have been taken to end the Naked Mile, many University and city officials said they are concerned with the run - especially following the complaints of disheveled viewers and participants.

"I think it should be stopped," said Ann Arbor Police Department Sgt. Michael Logghe. "I'm not really concerned with the nakedness, I'm just afraid of someone getting hurt. The crowds are just too big."

The spectators and participants caused more than $13,000 in damages to the landscape of the Diag last spring, Chenevert said. He added that Huron Valley Ambulances transported 12 people to local hospitals following the late-night jog.

"Media came last year from as far as Germany," said University spokesperson Julie Peterson. "I find that a bit frightening."

Before last April's Naked Mile, various University student organizations coordinated their efforts with DPS officials to offer additional safety.

Volunteers were equipped with radios to report trouble to DPS officers. Naked Mile T-shirts were distributed to runners who needed clothing at the end of the run. In addition, organizations attempted to provide enough room for the runners along the crowded path, which included South University Avenue.

"It started as an innocent celebration of the end of classes," said Vice President for Student Affairs Maureen Hartford, explaining the growth and change of the Mile. "It's gotten ugly. It's a total mess."

But some students said they are concerned that too much intervention will ruin the tradition of the Mile and want to limit police and University involvement.

"This is a University of Michigan tradition," said Michigan Student Assembly Vice President Sarah Chopp. "I don't think the police should intervene. They should just help out with the safety of the runners."

But at Princeton, some people said they feel differently - especially following the transportation of several students to nearby medical clinics.

Nude Olympics participant and Princeton sophomore Noah Haidle said some intervention - especially when it is needed - is appreciated, no matter how fun the tradition is.

"I had a great time," Haidle said. "It's unfortunate (it's ending), but it's a wise administrative move. This year, things went awry."

AAPD officials and some University students share Shapiro's concerns and fear what the future of the Naked Mile may bring.

"As a student of U of M, it's a great tradition, but if you take a step back, then it's a disaster waiting to happen," said MSA President Trent Thompson. "So if we want to keep it going, then students must take the lead to make sure everyone is safe."

Ann Arbor officials said they understand student concern for maintaining the tradition, but are concerned with the city's protection.

"Generally, we don't like the Naked Mile," said Ann Arbor Mayor Ingrid Sheldon. "We realize that we live in a college town where different types of activities take place, but we have to maintain the safety of the community."

Some undesired outcomes of the Mile include exposure on the Internet or television.

On Friday, a taping of last year's Mile was aired on Ann Arbor's public access channel. Community Television Network, the Ann Arbor public access operator, allows any Ann Arbor resident or non-professional organization to submit a tape to be broadcast, said CTN Program Manager Lucy Ann Visovatti.

The tapes are not reviewed or censored by CTN before airing, Visovatti said, but the individual submitting the material must contractually agree that the tape contains no commercial content.

"We don't decide if the tapes are obscene - the courts do," Visovatti said, adding that penalties are put on tape owners only when the courts decide that laws have been broken.

People attempting to capture the nude event on video ran into problems during last year's Mile.

Nadon was involved in an altercation after last year's Mile that ended in a cash settlement out of court.

Hartford said she confronted a cameraperson during last year's Naked Mile, and asked, "Don't you feel absolutely like a voyeur?"

Nadon said he tapes the event "because it should be documented.

"It's a time when people have smiles on their faces during the winter term," Nadon said. "People get together to have a good time for free."

Some University students said they are uncomfortable with the taping of the event.

"I think there should be some understanding that it's a student thing, not an Ann Arbor thing," Music senior Tami Morse said. The taping "sort of makes it an obscene thing when it's not really obscene."

Because the event is not officially recognized by the city, police are unable to provide barricades or other types of protection for the runners, Hartford said.

But although public exposure is illegal, DPS and AAPD officers do not make arrests during the Naked Mile because the runner-to-officer ratio is too high, Logghe said.

Because they are running in public places, Mile participants must realize they are not in a private arena, said Joan Lowenstein, a media and law attorney with Feeligson, Jordan & DeLoof. She added that people videotaping the event also have a right to be there.

"I think it's ludicrous that someone can think they could run down the street, naked, in privacy," Logghe said.

Taping events for purposes of financial profit is a different story, said visiting Business Prof. Caryn Beck-Dudley.

"Generally, you can't use someone's likeness for profit without their consent," Beck-Dudley said.

Not being able to entirely control the Naked Mile atmosphere is partly due to its unofficial nature, Hartford said, explaining that the University cannot make the event official because of the illegal exposure.

"One of the problems is the more we get involved, the more official it becomes," Hartford said. "But we have to recognize the reality of it."

01-25-99
Note: This article originally appeared at the following location:
http://www.pub.umich.edu/daily/1999/jan/01-25-99/news/news1.html
and is reproduced here solely for informational purposes in the event this link is no longer functional.

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