Out of Bounds: Hazing in Athletics
Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 5:25PM
David H.K. Nguyen

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. 

Article originally appeared on Highereducationlaw.org (http://www.highereducationlaw.org/).
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