Line between hazing and hatred crossed

By Lindsey Woods

While any activity involving a dedicated group of people can breed a mentality that accommodates hazing culture, sports teams are especially susceptible to the practice.

The hierarchies that exist within teams and the expectation for camaraderie create the perfect breeding ground for older or more experienced players to assert their control by putting new members through ridiculous and dangerous rituals in the name of “team spirit.”

Such was the case with an unnamed high school freshman at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Ill., who was allegedly beaten and sodomized in September by his new soccer teammates after he made the varsity team. A lawsuit his parents filed on his behalf Nov. 19 alleges that school officials and coaches knew about hazing rituals but did nothing to stop them.

What’s most disturbing about this case is not the disgusting and unforgivable things a group of teenage boys allegedly did to a classmate or what appears to be gross negligence of the adults involved. What makes me sick to my stomach is the eerie familiarity of the nightmare described by the boy’s parents and attorney.

I look back fondly on the sense of purpose being on a team gave me. Sure, we gave our new teammates a hard time and made them do all the grunt work, but that’s different…right? When I think about the justification for that kind of behavior—carrying on traditions of a long-standing power structure established by players before us—they sound disconcertingly similar to the explanations given by those who perpetrate heinous hazing offenses.

Certainly our innocent teasing was different than the assault allegedly carried out by the soccer players at Maine West, but they are just different degrees of harassment. I think all athletes should ask themselves: When do traditional hazing rituals become criminal?

Illinois, one of 44 states that have anti-hazing laws, defines an act of hazing as when a person “knowingly requires the performance of any act by a student … for the purpose of induction of admission into any group, organization or society associated or connected with that institution.” The law goes on to outline two criteria that would qualify an incident as hazing: when “the act is not sanctioned or authorized by that educational institution” and when “the act results in bodily harm to any person.”

If the actions detailed in the lawsuit turn out to be true, the behavior of the players meets the legal definition of hazing. It’s time we take a look at our sports culture and re-evaluate what it means to be part of a team. Otherwise we will continue to send the message that rape and assault constitute “team bonding.”