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The Skeleton in the Locker: Hazing in the World of Sports

“'Hootie hoo,' the older players yelled before their home game that night, flicking the lights on and off and on again. Then they tripped a freshman in a T-shirt and football pants, letting loud music muffle any noise the boy made as he fell. Two pinned the younger boy's arms, while others punched and kicked him — not viciously, but hard enough to matter, two witnesses said. He curled into the fetal position and was groped by his attackers.” So reads the New York Times account of the hazing scandal rocking the small community of Sayreville, New Jersey. The football team at Sayreville War Memorial High School had long been a point of pride within the community.

Image Courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons License, flattop341

Until this fall. Now, with the season cancelled, a coaching staff suspended and seven arrests made, the nation has turned its eyes upon this sleepy town. Hazing is defined as “an initiation process involving harrassment.” It has been a part of male interaction for centuries, especially in team sports. For so long, we have seen it as a necessary evil, a way of building team unity. Of course, the only bonding that occurs is the bonding of the torturers as they prey on the weak.

As men, we seek physical dominance over our competitors. It is in our nature, and athletics only feeds this beast. Between the lines on the field of play, this is acceptable. But, when it spills off the field and into the locker room, we are forced to examine the fine line between acceptable initiation to a new team and outright abuse. As the older members of the Sayreville football team preyed upon their freshman, they did not target the weak links in the freshman class. No, they picked the most popular members of the class to degrade and humiliate. Why would they do such a thing? The answer is simple. Their goal, through hazing, was to further uphold their status as the dominant members of the team. Popular newcomers are seen as a threat, and treated as such. The true purpose of hazing is clear. The end goal of hazing is not to welcome new members to a team, teach them the ropes or educate them on the ins and outs of the team. No, the goal is to instill a sense of fear through humiliation and physical assault. Veteran players fear a spot on the bench will beckon as rising stars join the team. This fear is only natural. All athletes fear replacement. There will always be someone faster, stronger and better waiting in the wings. The modus operandi of sports will always be “what have you done for me recently.” Past success is no way to guarantee a job in the future when your backup is younger and faster than you. So, what do you do? You make his life a living hell. Perhaps more chilling than the actual description of the hazing at Sayreville, affectionately described by the older members of the team as “ass taking,” is the freshman player’s response to the despicable actions committed against him. “You guys never saw anything,” he yelled to his friends. More vile than the actual acts committed, is the sense of isolation they create. In a room of over fifty teammates, this freshman is alone. His fellow freshmen cannot help him and he clearly cannot trust the rest of his teammates. As a 14 year old boy on a team of boys four years his senior, his only goal is acceptance. He likely idolizes his assaulters. What can he do besides take the abuse with a smile and try to laugh it off? The fact that reports of hazing have resulted in a cancelled season and arrests shows how far we have come as a society. No longer does a “boys will be boys” attitude rule the day. There are true consequences for committing acts of this nature on your fellow teammate, and I hope in the coming years even stronger punishment will be levied upon those who choose to commit such acts. Athletics teach so many lessons to young boys, teamwork, dedication and hard work chief among them. Unfortunately, Sayreville is likely only one of hundreds of schools where hazing has taken place this year. Hopefully this can serve as a teaching moment for all in sports. Sports must be used as a means of building up your fellow athlete, not tearing them down. The Sayreville case is a step in the right direction, but the sporting community must take action. Everything that I have described in the preceding paragraphs is disgusting and unacceptable. Hazing is a vicious practice that has gone on far too long. It is certainly no longer the norm, but even in isolated instances, it taints the nature of athletics. There is no place for it in our society, and I applaud the freshmen of Sayreville, courageous enough to stand up for themselves.

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