Every year, millions of high school and college students try out for sports teams in the hopes of becoming a part of something great. Try-outs don’t always end when the last cut is made and the final team roster is posted, however. In recent years, we've seen a hush-hush trend resurfacing in sports – the humiliation and victimizing of rookie athletes through hazing rituals.
One example: On a mid-April day in 2008, during a bus ride back to Wilson County from a baseball game in Niagara Falls, the Junior Varsity players, eighth graders, who were 14 years old at the time, were dragged to the rear by a varsity player and sexually assaulted in the aisle. Three varsity players and two coaches faced charges related to the incident. This story is only one of many hazing incidents, most of which go unreported.
So what exactly is hazing?
A rather large assortment of definitions exists for the term “hazing” because it is a broad term covering a variety of situations.
US Legal Definitions defines hazing “as an abusive, often humiliating form of initiation into or affiliation with a group, including: Any willful action taken or situation created which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health of another.”
What makes hazing so dangerous is that many believe initiation and hazing are two separate things, that initiation is necessary to become a part of a group even though in many situations it constitutes hazing. Most of examples of hazing go unreported, to either protect one's status in the group of because of the humiliation of the type of torture they had to endure.
"Sexual assault is one of the most recognizable ways to violate and humiliate another human being," states Dr. Elizabeth Meyer, an Assistant Professor at Concordia University. "[B]eing in a passive, submissive, or penetrated position is equated with weakness, vulnerability, femininity, and homosexuality - all devalued subject positions [in our culture]." People do not come forward, because they don't want to be labeled victims; they misguidedly feel embarrassed for what others did to them.
How bad is the problem?
An Alfred University study revealed that eight out of ten athletes have been hazed during college; more than five out of every ten athletes has been subjected to some form of hazing during high school; and at least one out of every twenty athletes facts acts of hazing during their middle school years. The problem extends to more than just sports, however. The same study found that almost half of all high school students experience some sort of hazing. The practice is also frequently documented within:
- The military
- Athletic teams
- Marching bands
- Other types of clubs and organizations
In college, fraternities and sororities are the institutions that haze students the most.
A large amount of incidents go unreported because of embarrassment, fear of repercussion, feelings of guilt, or the idea that hazing is an acceptable way to welcome new members to a team or club.
The distinction must be made, however: while initiation is encouraged, hazing is illegal. 44 States currently have anti-hazing laws that allow victims to press charges, even if the victims consented to the act.