During the snowstorm that crippled the East Coast a few weeks ago, I started a conversation with a few of the young men who participate in my athletic training classes. I asked them if they knew what hazing was. Then I asked them had they ever been on the receiving end of a hazing ritual. Their answers didn’t shock me in the least. They all had been the subjects of what would amount to casual teasing and bouts of embarrassment. One explained to me how his travel team actually had a two-week process that every new player had to go through.
Hazing, for the most part, is harmless. However, there are occasions where hazing crosses a clear line.
In the news, there is a high school who is at the center of a hazing scandal in which a freshman basketball player was seriously injured. His injuries were the result of being sexually assaulted during a tournament road trip. In legal terms, the 15-year-old was raped. He was violated by his teammates; older boys he trusted and likely thought were his friends. To make the matters worse, neither the basketball coach of the team nor the athletic director of this high school protected him. There was no supervision in place to prevent this incident from turning violent. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, all involved parties have been charged and are awaiting hearings.
This isn’t the first time a hazing scandal has taken place at the high school. I’m certain it won’t be the last. Hazing has become a secret that everyone is scared to talk about. I have noticed that the conversations formed around hazing, especially in relation to sports, are shrugged off as “boys will be boys”. This is an optimal time to open up a dialogue with sons about how the behaviors surrounding athletes affect masculinity.
You have a right to say no.
So much attention is paid to teaching our daughters about having agency over their bodies. But it’s important to instruct our sons that they can say no. Men can be victims of sexual assault, however, they often will dismiss it as insignificant. Sexual assault involving other boys brings into question sexuality as well as mental fortitude. If you can’t take it then you’re a weak link. Sons need to know that saying no is, in fact, a symbol of power and strength.
Hazing isn’t a free pass to be abusive.
I remember in high school there was an instance where a kid who was trying out for the wrestling team was duct taped to his locker. Some of the older wrestlers took turns punching him in the stomach. They called it “gut checking”. The student was defenseless and quietly whimpered in pain. Eventually a hall monitor broke up the scene and took the boy down. I recall this so vividly because I thought to myself how cowardice this was of the wrestling team.
There are many ways a team can foster brotherhood with new teammates without violence. At its core, surviving a hazing process is proving that you belong. In the NFL or NBA, hazing is often executed by sticking a rookie with a huge dinner bill. Or it could be making him carry equipment. There’s a long-standing tradition in baseball that rookies have to carry around pink backpacks. If it’s appropriate, we should encourage our sons to be creative about their friendly ribbing. The harmlessness of hazing is more memorable than a punch or kick could ever be.
It’s okay to tell an adult.
Locker rooms have an understand iron wall. Do you remember the ridicule former Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin endured after reporting the torment he suffered? Everyone, from media analysts to other NFL players, chided him for speaking out. When abusive hazing behavior goes undisciplined and unreported, it creates a culture of violence. This is prevalent at all levels but it’s mostly normalized in team sports. Young boys need to have comfort in speaking to an adult when they feel bullied by teammates. Parents have to establish a safe environment in which young men know they will be heard and issues with hazing will be investigated if needed.
Hazing is an extreme form of bullying.
School districts across the country have instituted no-tolerance, bully-free policies. Yet, those rules don’t apply to sports. Bullying in the locker rooms continues to occur in plain sight. Older boys are enforcing their masculinity over their perceived subordinates. Sports are encouraged because it’s a space to teach leadership, confidence, and acceptance. Although some boys give them up at an early age because they feel ostracized or are made to feel like less than because they take hazing too seriously. Shaping a boy’s idea of masculinity can be hindered if his experience around other boys is one of submission.
Introducing our sons to sports is a great way to help build on their own ideals about what masculinity is. However, we also have to teach our sons that, while hazing is sometimes an acceptable means of male bonding, the locker room isn’t a place where violating a man’s boundaries as a human being is okay.
Photo: Thomas Ricker / flickr