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Out of Bounds: Hazing in Athletics

When you think of the word hazing, the first thing to come to mind is Greek organizations. We have seen a flurry of news stories all around the nation of hazing allegations or deaths involved with hazing. What happens when we change the scope to intercollegiate athletics? Would you believe me if I said that hazing in college sports is just as present?

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA, hazing is the active or passive participation in such acts and occurs regardless of the willingness to participate in the activities. Such activities include acts that are humiliating, intimidating or demeaning, or endangers the health and safety of a person. According to St. John’s Law Review, athletic hazing in the past was as simple as carrying an older athlete’s equipment. In the 1999-2000 school year, the incoming athletes of the University of Vermont’s hockey team reportedly laid down on the floor of a basement while veteran players spit on them and had a pie-eating contest in which the pies were, “a seafood quiche doctored with ketchup and barbecue sauce”. In this case, the institution was at fault and paid a total of 80,000 dollars to the student, Corey LaTulippe, who filed the lawsuit. If anti-hazing policies are to go into effect, we cannot overlook intercollegiate athletics.

We cannot assume that these things are contained to college campuses. Athletic hazing starts as early as high school. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, hazing is not a new trend; however, it is increasing in public schools. In the case of Doe v. Maine Township High School District 207, four students at Maine West High school, located in Des Plaines, Illinois, were victims of physical and sexual assault from both the soccer and baseball teams. These were hazing rituals in which coaches ordered older players to assault the varsity recruits and witnessed on the sidelines. After being hit with a lawsuit and going to court, the court dropped the charges against the defendants, the students faced disciplinary actions by the school, and the firing of the coaches followed. This lead to an anti-hazing policy and training policies for staff and students to respect at the school district.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, not all athletic teams are guilty of hazing. In a particular case, Cameron v. Univ. of Toledo, a freshman football player injured himself after participating in something the upperclassman athletes called, “The Olympics” in which freshman participated in silly, child-like games after practice to build a bond between the team. No one forced a player to do anything degrading or harmful, and there was no evidence that if the students did not participate they would lose their spot on the team or worse. The plaintiff proceeded to participate, climbed on another student’s back to “dunk a football over the goal,” and injured himself after missing, falling to the ground, and hitting his head. The plaintiff proceeded and filed a lawsuit against the university claiming allegations of hazing. After listening to the plaintiff, the court ruled that coercion did not take place, initiation of ritual did not occur, and the plaintiff took assumption of risk after he decided to climb the student’s back with no direction from his teammates. The University of Toledo’s football team remained in the confines of team building and the plaintiff could not accuse the team for hazing in any form.

In the Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, the author mentioned how different states criminalize hazing. Some states consider hazing as just a misdemeanor involving mental or social harm, while other states add on to a misdemeanor by adding failure to report, third-party liable, inchoate liability (in which there is a form of conspiracy) and other approaches on rulings. In the case of Hunt v. Radwanski et al, Ms. Haley Ellen Hunt experienced emotional harm and permanent physical damage after her soccer teammates at Clemson University blindfolded Ms. Hunt and told her to run without knowing where she was going. The teammates that were there encouraged Ms. Hunt to run faster and without being able to see, Ms. Hunt ran into a brick wall at full speed. Under South Carolina law, her case could “only face criminal liability for the physical injuries, as hazing only includes acts which have a foreseeable potential for causing physical harm to a person.”

Hazing by no means is a form of team building no matter how you dress it up. Concurring with NCAA’s national data, about seventy-four percent of student-athletes experience one form of hazing while on an athletic team. This is seventy-four percent too many. Policymakers should analyze the most reported activity involved in hazing in college sports and make sure they enact policies and procedures to make sure this does not happen and the numbers do not increase.

This post was authored by Marcos Villarreal, a masters student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and a graduate assistant in the Office of Student Life Initiatives. 

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Reader Comments (10)

Thank you for raising awareness about this often overlooked form of hazing, in sports. It is particularly disturbing to read about the hazing beginning in high school, and even encouraged/condoned by coaches! Last year, the local community of La Vernia was in the news for a similar type of hazing that was really sexual assault. In that situation, coaches claimed to not know about it. I wonder how we as educators can help students learn boundaries and expectations. Is having freshman carry seniors’ equipment really hazing? I am not sure I would classify it as the same as being forced to eat “unique” recipes until they throw up. However, history does demonstrate that without clear and consistent policing, hazing can easily (and quickly) endanger students and threaten their emotional well-being. What else can institutions of higher education (and even K-12) be doing to win in the game of outlawing hazing?

April 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Severance

Hazing is a big topic for me as well. It can be in any organization these days. The athletic department has high standards for their players in Higher Ed. as well as policies against hazing for the coaches to be involved is well is poor leadership and ethics. Coaches should be terminated. It is one thing for the coach to ask a Senior to lead the exercises for the day but to ask upperclassman to do certain things to the lower classmen is distasteful and illegal. It is also difficult for these young athletes to disregard what their coaches say. Coaches decide who plays, how long, and what happens to that players future. Students should understand the difference between right and wrong and knowing that using force is a poor judgment call.

April 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Redwine

Hazing has obviously gotten out of control. I have book recommendation: True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities by John Hechinger. He writes about its history and how it turned harmful and depraved. He specifically talks about Sigma Alpha Epsilon, "No fraternity embodies this problem more than Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a national organization with more than 15,000 undergraduate brothers spread over 230 chapters nationwide." It is a must read.

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKyle Richey

You're right, hazing is generally tied to Greek Life. However, athletics is similar to Greek Life in that if a student really wants to be part of that team/fraternity/sorority, they will go through any hazing. Students should not have to go through such measures in order to be a part of the group/team. Coaches should not allow hazing to occur in their teams. There needs to be more responsibility to prevent hazing and if it does occur, to give tougher consequences.

April 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNelly Reyes

Hazing can definitely be a big issue among college students, especially when you consider the very harmful impacts it can have. Since it is widespread the issue needs to be looked at by administration and coaches but the overall issue of hazing is very difficult to solve. Creating policy or procedures as mentioned will not do much to solve the problem since students will find other ways around them and coaches will try to hide the incidents to keep their best players active. Since the hazing is frequently done in private locations or off campus, in order to lessen the issue it will take a large change of mindset for administration, coaches, and players alike. Finding the reasons students decide to haze others and finding more appropriate ways to meet student needs will go a long way in lessening the issue overall.

April 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos A Velez

Comparing and contrasting Greek / Campus Life hazing to Intercollegiate Athletic hazing is futile primarily of the leadership structure. Greek organizations elect students leaders by student members with minimal oversight from Higher Education administrators. On the other hand, any intercollegiate athletic club is under the direction of a head and assistant coach and specialty coaches depending on the sport.

Thus, hazing in intercollegiate athletics comes down to one work: discipline. We have to look at the standards coaches are exemplifying and instilling among their student athletes. Now I am aware of norms such as underclassmen carrying equipment and maybe cleaning up the gym but that does not compare to forceful acts of consumption and imminent acts that lead to physical damage.

If these careless acts do happen, the leadership needs to be just as responsible as the students committing the acts. Students athletes are held to a higher standard and need to be held accountable as such.

April 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDeon Turner

As I have mentioned in my previous post on hazing, I do believe that the individuals who take part in such behavior should be held lawfully responsible for their actions in regards to causing harm to someone. Students who are being hazed should speak up for themselves when it comes to the ridiculous request being asked of them. I also feel that it is the coaches responsibility to educate their student athletes on the liabilities/outcomes of hazing. Universities should also provide a hazing training to both coaches and athletes. Once the student complete the training they should also be notified that their athletic scholarships is on the line if found taking part in hazing foolishness.

May 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTrenshae Gilbert

Hazing in athletics is so unique, interesting, and disturbing. Of course Greek life gets all the hazing publicity (understandable, considering the mortality rate), but hazing in athletics has a much different dynamic, especially with scholarship athletes. I'll speak specifically about scholarship athletes as that is the group that comes to mind for me. These athletes are scouted or spend months courting one program or another to find the best fit with the best financial kickback, an important consideration considering the cost of education. After months of working to become part of a program the power dynamics and the stakes are much higher than they are for a student wandering into five different Greek houses and deciding which one to pledge within a week. At any point the Greek student can walk away, I'm not saying it's easy, but their negative consequences of walking away will be mostly social. For a scholarship athlete the consequences can be brutal. Leaving a team because of hazing can result in losing a scholarship and potentially their entire education, if the hazing isn't discouraged by the coach the student could also "blacklist" them self by not participating, the coach could tell other coaches that the student isn't a team player and make it impossible to transfer. For a freshman student, that can be losing your entire future, a brutal consequence for not participating in whatever ridiculous ritual is happening. Aside from that extremity, athletes have to be able to communicate and get along while in the midst of playing the actual sport they were brought in to play. If you refuse to participate in hazing rituals, sold as team "bonding" you risk ruining the social dynamics with your teammates, which can have negative impacts on the field/court, and also make it much more difficult to adjust to college life as your teammates are the people you will spend the most time with while at college, out of sheer necessity. Hazing in athletics isn't given the consideration it needs to be given. College athletes in general aren't given the consideration they should be, not in the right ways.

May 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Borden

Hazing has always been an impact in higher education, but I feel that not many institutions have done much about it. Greek life does get some of the attention, but other organizations and sports should be looked into. These students are placed on scholarship and are often hazed when they first get there. Most of the students are afraid to address hazing because of the consequences they might face when after they report it especially coming from the team. What are we doing as student affairs administration to stop this? I feel as a student affairs administration we need to provide professional development for our coaches so they can be aware of what hazing looks like and how they can stop it. We may not see our student athletes all the time but our coaches do, let us get the involved to stop hazing within athletics. We can also inform our students athletes about hazing and create more consequences to face when caught hazing. Since a lot of them are on scholarship it will remind them that they will have the scholarship taken away and be expelled.

May 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterApril Vasquez

Hazing in the athletic realm that some higher education administrators can ofter easily forget about, if you are not involved with the athletic community. Thank you for reminding of all of the tragedies that happen every season across the country. Hazing in athletics is just apparent as it is in the greek system. I think athletic departments and programs need to do a better job and keeping their athletes in check. They should also have harsh punishments and a zero-tolerance for it on any team. Now that is is obviously easier said then done. What if the all-American star quarterback hazed the new players? What is a lineman who sat on the bench did the same thing. I can guarantee that both of those actions would yield different punishments. It is easy for athletic programs to hide their scandal by claiming "FERPA" or any other loopholes that one can think of. Athletic programs are better at hiding scandal than a university is for its everyday students by a factor of ten. If a student messes up, drop the hammer, there a million other students that can take their place. However, if you ace pitcher who has a "million dollar arm" does something...the program is hiding faster and more efficiently to keep that star player in the uniform in hopes of helping their program succeed. Higher education needs to remember that these student athletes are students first and they demand the same repercussions as a regular full time student

May 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Moya

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