Columnist: Despite Greater Awareness, Violent Hazing Still A Problem In School Sports

Great article in Forbes from writer Bob Cook who has noticed the same trends that most BadJocks readers have seen lately: a disturbing uptrend in media reports of sports hazing.

For all the legitimate worries about concussions, what I was most concerned about when my son joined high school football, or even other sports and activities, was what would happen in the locker room or the bus. The sexual and other physical assaults that seem to happen with numbing regularity nationwide are referred to as “hazing,” but I guess I don’t have the imagination to figure out why sticking fingers or objects into someone’s most private orifices imparts some lesson about leadership and respect for elders.

Fortunately, so far, so safe for my son. But as the 2013-14 school sports year kicks off, already there are districts embroiled in so-called hazing scandals for past or present behavior. Over the past few years, some states have toughened anti-hazing laws, including my home state of Illinois, which added a failure-to-report criminal offense after high-profile hazing scandals at two suburban Chicago schools, including Maine West in Des Plaines, where two soccer coaches were fired, and one is under criminal indictment, for a soccer hazing scandal that has had at least five identified victims, three of whom have sued the school (one of whom did so in late August), saying it knew the hazing was going on and did nothing. The school is denying the claims made in the lawsuits.

I applaud Mr. Cook for starting this discussion, and I think it’s an important one to have, but after covering these incidents for more than 13 years, I’m not sure it will ever be possible to prevent sports hazing altogether. I applaud those who try, but in my experience their efforts have not had any significant impact.

As some of you will recall, we broke a major story in May 2006 by posting sports hazing pictures from more than a dozen colleges on our site. It sparked a firestorm of debate and myself and others (like my longtime friend and author of a sports hazing prevention book, Dr. Susan Lipkins) thought we might have started a discussion that would end it. 

It didn’t happen. In fact, before it was all over, we were accused of everything from sensaltionalizing the photos for our own gain to just not being “jock enough” to understand these rituals, regardless how brutal or demeaning. The uproar to end sports hazing died out almost as quickly as it had risen up.

Over the past seven years, sports hazings have not only continued, but have become more violent and sexualized. Each year dozens, if not hundreds, of young athletes are victimized, perpetrators are arrested (some going to jail), coaches fired, athletes suspended, and seasons canceled. And yet, the practice persists. One of the more recent incidents in Somerville, MA resulted in a 17-year-old JV soccer player being arrested at school and being hauled out of class in handcuffs. He could be charged as an adult (for allegedly shoving a broomhandle where it doesn’t belong) and, if convicted, might not only serve jail time but could also have to register as a sex offended for the rest of his life. At 17. And for what? So his junior varsity high school socer team would play together better as a group and win a few more games?

I am currently working on a guide for parents on how to deal with sports hazing, as it has become obvious to me that coaches and administrators (both high school and college) are unwilling to take the strong steps necessary to rid their schools of these harmful traditions. (I will do a blog post on this site when that material is ready.) While I think hazing prevention is a worthy goal, all most parents can do at this point is prepare their sons and daughters for hazing that is likely to come.

I’d like to hear your two cents: BadJocks@Yahoo.com. You can also comment to Bob Cook on Twitter@notgoingpro, or on his Facebook page.

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