Settlement reached in high school football hazing case
Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 6:30PM
Joy Blanchard

An interesting and disturbing news article came across the wire today about a settlement reached in a Las Vegas high school case in which seven football players sued after being sodomized and hazed by teammates. The case also involved coaches and the district superintendent, who knew about this and other incidents yet failed to act.

A lot of my research has focused on the liability that institutions face when it comes to the safety and well-being of students (e.g., sexual misconduct, alcohol abuse, mental health issues). I recently completed a manuscript that compared legal trends in the K-12 and higher education sectors involving negligence suits brought by student-athletes and their families for injuries sustained as a result of interscholastic competition. In the course of that research, I looked at the emerging issue of “culture” in the dialogue of the courts. At every level, students are sacrificing their safety to be part of the team. Recently PBS’ Frontline series aired “Football High,” a case study set in Arkansas that illustrated the dangers of competitive and aspirational interscholastic sports. Players, coaches, trainers, and administrators alike reiterated culture as a central force in their decisions. The reward system values prestige and winning, not safety.

Whether it is a culture of hazing, a culture of winning, or a culture of self-sacrifice for the sake of the team, I think administrators and educators need to look at athletics in a way that courts, the NCAA, and university presidents have continued to fall short—and that is by changing culture.

As culture within and among groups are formed, norms are not taught but inferred as members are socialized into the group. Shared values and assumptions become validated by shared experiences of the group. Groups learn from external forces and pressures; how they deal with them are imposed and taught by the leader (E. Schein, “Organizational Culture and Leadership,” 1992).  

The recent scandals at the University Miami and Ohio State University, for example, provide ripe discussion. Though it is easy enough for us to identify the problem, I unfortunately do not see a lasting solution on the horizon.

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