Stopping Sports' Most Troubling Tradition
Posted: December 1, 2003
Varsity high school softball players tell a sophomore that if she wants to make the team, she has to stand on a chair in the cafeteria and sing the school's fight song loud enough for everyone to hear it.
After practice, all the junior varsity football players are brought into the locker room. The varsity players stick the jayvee players' heads in a toilet one by one and flush. The younger athletes are told that this is simply a longstanding tradition every team member must endure.
All the freshmen trying out for the high school basketball team are lined up after practice, and whether they want it or not, their heads are shaved by older players.
In your mind, are these examples of hazing? According to a recent Alfred University study they are. The researchers
defined hazing as "any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to participate." And the study found that 45% of the high school athletes polled had been subjected to it.
True, some forms of hazing may be more extreme. The August incident involving a Long Island high school football team created horrifying headlines nationwide. So did the video of high school girls being victimized at a powder-puff football "ritual" in Illinois. These are shocking accounts of violence and despicable behavior. But the truth is, even mild hazing is hazing, and in 43 states it is against the law.
Parents and coaches, take note: You must face some very harsh realities about this problem.
First of all, as the Alfred study shows, hazing is widespread. Second, you must realize that hazing doesn't have to be a brutal attack. As mentioned, certain rituals may be intended in good fun, but many coaches will tell you that a very slippery slope takes mild, good-natured hazing to assault. Third, contrary to popular belief, hazing doesn't bring teams closer together. In my experience, it usually has just the opposite effect. Kids often end up hating those who put them through it. And finally, the physical healing from a hazing attack often occurs quickly, but the psychological scars can stay with someone for years.
Unfortunately, too many people still see hazing on sports teams as a harmless all-American tradition, whether it is at the high school, college or even pro level. But now is the time for parents and coaches to work together to stop it.
First, coaches must explain to the veteran players on their teams in preseason meetings that hazing ruins unity, hurts kids and breaks the law. Let them know that all forms of hazing are wrong and insist that it's their responsibility to break the chain. Then, parents, be sure you reinforce the coaches' messages. Ask your kid if he's ever been a hazing victim and let him know that it is a serious, punishable crime. If your kids are older players on a team, encourage them to start a new tradition of looking out for the younger kids instead of hazing them. No more freshmen having to carry all the equipment. No more shaved heads.
The anti-hazing message must be repeated so every kid hears it. As Hank Nuwer, a scholar who has written several books on the topic, says, hazing is not a "rite of passage"—it's a "wrong of passage." Hazing is one sports tradition that should be put to rest for good.
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