Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Is Hazing Ever "Normal"?

It’s the start of another school year. It’s time to turn attention from the Olympics to schools again. I hate to begin the school year on a depressing note, but here is an appalling story about middle school bully boys who have apparently been terrorizing and gang raping seventh grade boys with a plastic cone in the school locker room for months. The alleged rapists and bullies are athletes on school teams between the ages of 13 and 15.

Most of the incidents reportedly occurred just outside the physical education instructors’ office. Other boys who witnessed the crimes said that the screams of the victims were definitely within earshot of the teachers and coaches, but they never investigated or intervened. An initial investigation by school administrators apparently dismissed the claims of victims saying that the incidents did not go beyond “normal hazing.”

Normal hazing? And what might that be? Is hazing so ingrained in athletics and physical education culture that there could be any kind of harassment or humiliation that can be described as normal? Where do we draw the line? Is calling a kid “fag” ok? Is shoving him into his locker or snapping his butt with a towel ok? Is forcing him to submit to public sexual assault ok?

When middle school athletes have already escalated their bullying to gang rape, what kind of hazing can we expect once they made the high school varsity team? What is it about athletics that we ignore or excuse behavior that would be criminal in another setting?


So much of the hazing that occurs on high school and college athletic teams seems to involve gender, sexual and sexual orientation based attempts to humiliate the team “rookies.” These activities are usually accompanied by forced consumption of large quantities of alcohol. You know that something is institutionalized when there are commonly understood names given to these activities: tea-bagging and elephant walks to name two hazing practices on men’s teams. It isn’t only male athletes hazing younger teammates and classmates. High school and college women’s teams are increasingly engaged in hazing too and much of it is also homophobic. Check out the resource on hazing on the It Takes A Team Resource page.

The problem is that too many male coaches, physical education teachers and school administrators see bullying and hazing as normal and harmless . Is it really just a part of growing up male to have to endure daily taunts and physical assaults in the hope that you get to inflict the same terrorism on the next younger generation. Today’s middle school perpetrators were probably yesterday’s victims.

Is it really necessary to humiliate and bully someone to encourage “team bonding”, which is always used as the rationale for condoning hazing? How pathetic is it that middle school athletes need to assert their power over younger, smaller classmates to feel superior and in control?

Encourage any honest conversation among men about locker rooms, physical education classes and athletic experiences and you soon learn how “normal” and widespread bullying and hazing is and how painful and enduring the memories are.

Any school administrator, coach or parent who has not taken an active part in helping their school institute tough anti-bullying policies and anti-bullying education for staff and students is part of the problem. We can all look at this school in Texas and be appalled at their lack of preparation and response, but what about our schools? How do we know similar incidents of violence tolerated as “normal” hazing aren’t occurring right under our noses in schools where we coach, teach or send our children every day?

4 comments:

calugg said...

I'm not surprised that this appalling attack happened in Texas, a state that officially hates queers.

So much of hazing/bullying involves sexual putdowns, or in the case rape.

BTW: The teachers AND building principal should be held liable for these assaults. Saying they "didn't know" doesn't absolve them of their responsibilities.

If I were the parent of one of the victims, I'd be going after the teachers and building principal's professional licenses for gross negligence.

What a ghastly, ghastly event.

Fat Louie said...

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Thanks!
-FL

Pat Griffin said...

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