Hazing is criminal assault, not tradition

By Editorial Board

Student athletes learn plenty of life lessons including the value of hard work, the power of determination and the strength of tradition. However, in the recent case of hazing at Lake Zurich High School in Illinois, tradition went too far. 

According to a Feb. 2 Chicago Tribune article, two alleged victims have now filed a federal lawsuit against School District 95 arising from actions by the Lake Zurich High School football team. The lawsuit alleges that members of the football team committed sexual assaults and acts of degradation in the locker rooms and showers under the guise of “hazing” during the Fall 2016 football season, while coaches and administrators ignored the abuse.

“Hazing” has a broad meaning, but HazingPrevention.org describes it as “any action taken or any situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.” 

The vagueness of the term compounds the problem. Harmless dares like drinking soy sauce or ding-dong-ditching a house do not fall in this category and should not be considered as such. Lumping trivial behavior with criminal acts normalizes something that should be considered a crime. 

Harmless “hazing” does not need to be eradicated, but school districts, parents and students need to be made aware of the distinct line between a dare and hazing if any improvement is to be made. While society cannot prevent hazing altogether, it can denounce the tradition and reverence attached to it. 

 Every fall, incidents of hazing—sometimes fatal—occur when men and women pledge a college fraternity or sorority and willingly participate, all in the name of proving themselves worthy of inclusion in the group. The new Illinois lawsuit alleges that not only did the coaches and administrators ignore the abuse in this case but Lake Zurich High School, like many other schools, has tolerated hazing for more than two decades.

StopHazing.org conducted a national study and found that 47 percent of students experience hazing prior to college as minors, which establishes a disappointing level of tolerance that perpetuates the practice. In this case, the lawsuit states other players who were not involved were also “indirectly participating, watching or aware,” according to a Feb. 1 NBC Chicago article. Turning a blind eye in these situations is harmful beyond belief.

According to a Dec. 28,2016 Chicago Tribune article, the only action the school allegedly took in response to the incident was to send a note to parents of football players describing the attack as “egregious” and increase efforts to educate players about hazing.

School districts cannot respond to sexual assault, as the Lake Zurich students allegedly endured, with a slap on the wrist and community service and expect these types of incidents not to recur.  Such “punishments” are as reprehensible as the well-known case of Brock Turner, who only served three months in jail after being charged with sexually assaulting a woman.

Dismissing hazing because of its deep roots in sports culture and Greek life sends a message that reprehensible behavior is excusable. It isn’t and should never be so.