All across the United States each year many individuals make the conscious
decision to try out for interscholastic athletic teams in the hopes of
being part of something great. These individuals also understand that
prior to the last cut; they will need to sacrifice time, energy and social
gatherings to make the team successful. However, what many of these individuals
do not recognize and understand is that try-outs don’t always end
when the last cut is made and the final team list is posted. In recent
years, an old, but very much alive problem has begun to resurface in sports,
and that is the issue of humiliating and victimizing rookie athletes through
hazing rituals. These horrible acts leave victims debilitated in many
capacities, and such practices break down the institution of sport which
has been noted for building such positive character qualities as strength,
discipline, and a strong work ethic.
With that being said, the purpose of this paper is to identify, discuss,
and analyze how hazing rituals among athletes affect athletics at both
the high school and collegiate level. Using current research and statistical
information, I will attempt to explain how hazing affects both athletes
and the culture of the institution at hand. More specifically the following
topics will be addressed: what is hazing; types of hazing that exist;
when, where, and how does hazing occur; the legal ramifications of hazing;
problems presented for the victim; and lastly, the barriers that exist
In what capacity does hazing play a role in athletics at both the high
school and collegiate level within a program? And, to what degree does
it affect the sport culture within the institution at hand? Both of these
questions deserve further investigation and understanding so that those
who work to maintain the integrity of sport can continue to do so.
Review of Literature
What is hazing? To begin, because hazing is such a broad term
covering a variety of situations it is easily noted that an assortment
of definitions exist. However, for that same reason it is important that
one look to a definition that covers a variety of situations on a variety
of levels. With that being said, Mothers Against School Hazing (2005),
also known as MASH, has done a great deal of research to develop a definition
that attempts to cover all areas of hazing. According to MASH (2005),
…hazing is a broad term encompassing any action or activity which
contribute to the positive development of a person; which inflicts or
cause physical or mental harm or anxieties; which may demean, degrade
disgrace any person regardless of location, intent or consent of participants…any
action or situation which intentionally or unintentionally endangers
a student for
admission into or affiliation with any student organization.
Although this definition does an excellent job at defining the acts that
constitute hazing, the problem lies in the fact that many believe that
initiation and hazing are two separate things, and that initiation is
okay even though in many situations it constitutes hazing.
Difference between initiation and hazing. While it may be true
that not all initiation involves hazing, all hazing is done as an initiation;
and because of this there is no real difference between the two terms.
According to the Webster’s Dictionary (1995) initiation is, “to
admit as a member into a fraternity or club, etc., esp. with a special
or secret ceremony.” Although basic in its definition, initiation
aims to accomplish the same thing as hazing does, admit a member into
a group. Unfortunately, the problem with this definition is that it limits
itself by omitting the fact that it does not say that the ceremonies are
good, nor are they bad. It is in that fact that many who agree with hazing
find their loophole. Those who choose to support that hazing is right
of passage because it falls under an incomplete definition of initiation
are allowing for inappropriate and violent acts to continue at staggering
How often does hazing occur? With that being said, how often
do such acts of deviance occur? It would be nice to say that such behaviors
are few and far between, but unfortunately that is not the case. In research
conducted by Alfred University, acts of hazing were seen in high numbers
from the middle school level through the collegiate level (Bushweller,
2000). According to this research, eight out of ten athletes had been
subjected to hazing during college; more than four out of every ten athletes
had been subjected to some form of hazing during high school; and lastly,
at least one out every twenty athletes faced acts of hazing during their
middle school years. These numbers are staggering, but what is more staggering
is the fact that these numbers may not be the true depiction of how many
athletes are actually hazed. Many fail to report incidents of hazing because
of embarrassment, possible repercussions following a report, and feelings
of guilt that the incident was their fault. Therefore, it is very difficult
to understand why so many acts occur. However, through more detailed research
we may be able to get a better understanding why this behavior continues
at such high numbers by evaluating the characteristics and cultures that
perpetuate acts of hazing.
Characteristics of people who haze. In order to understand where
we are now with hazing it is important to understand where such behaviors
began. It would be nice to say that this is a new problem that needs to
be fixed, but unfortunately hazing is a problem that has been able to
endure centuries of time. Beginning in fourth century Carthage, it was
noted that students taunted and bullied incoming freshman as an initiation
into the ancient learning environments. And, later in the Middle Ages,
it was recorded that first year students at universities were forced to
drink urine and endure skin scrapings as the initiation into university
(Rosellini, 2000). So where are we today and are there characteristics
specific to those who initiate hazing rituals?
According to current research, hazing practices of today do not vary
much from the past and nor do the reasons why individuals haze. Often
times it can be theorized that the hazer will have an aggressive disposition,
struggles with power relationships and uses violence as an outlet (Nestor,
2000). In addition to this, a person who is involved in hazing other individuals
will often times lack self-esteem, is searching for meaning in their own
life, and lastly is seeking retaliation on someone else for their own
displaced emotions of hazing incidents that they may have had to endure
Even though it is unclear why people may haze, it is very clear according
to research that the problem is getting worse. Whether hazing occurs because
of character traits or the surrounding cultures, hazing has been able
to reach grotesque levels and because of this, three types of hazing categories
have been identified.
Types of Hazing
Types of hazing. Since a variety of hazing rituals have been
recorded it is essential that such acts be categorized based on the severity
of the incident. According to research (MASH, 2005) three categories exist
to identify and define the different levels of hazing. The three categories
are, starting with the least debilitating: subtle hazing, harassment hazing,
and bodily harm hazing. However, to fully understand what each of these
categories represent we must look at each of them individually.
To begin, let’s first examine subtle hazing. According to MASH
(2005) subtle hazing is,
…actions that are against accepted and organization standards
behavior and good taste. An activity or attitude directed toward a student
or an act which ridicules, humiliates, and/or embarrasses.
When an individual is forced to endure subtle hazing, he or she is enduring
the least debilitating form of hazing. However, although the examples
found under this umbrella may seem childish, the emotional effects on
the victim can be very costly. Some examples of subtle hazing may include
and are not limited to, ostracizing an individual from the group, calling
an individual names and/or depriving an individual certain privileges.
Although this may seem insignificant, forcing an individual to endure
these behaviors or situations does, in fact, constitute hazing.
Next, is harassment hazing. Again, according to MASH (2005), harassment
…is anything that causes anguish or physical discomfort to a student…any
activity or activity directed toward a student or activity which confuses,
frustrates or causes undue stress.
In the realms of hazing this is the midway point between non-aggressive
and aggressive forms of exploitation of individuals. In harassment hazing
the victim may be forced to endure verbal abuse, they may have to wear
ridiculous clothing, do stunts or skits of lewd and crude nature, and/or
answer questions while in a sexual stance with another individual. All
of these acts may result in emotional distress for the victim; they may
constitute sexual harassment if charges were to be filed. All in all,
this form of harassment can be very debilitating.
Lastly, is bodily harm hazing which is the most offensive of the three
categories of hazing. Bodily harm hazing is defined as,
…any form of action that may cause physical punishment, or any
action that may cause bodily harm and/or touching in private places and/or
de-clothing of a student (2005).
When an individual is forced to take part in a hazing ritual that uses
this form of harassment he or she may be subjected to such rituals as,
being hit/punched/kicked with or without an object, performing or pretending
to perform a sexual act towards another, being sodomized, or drinking
until they vomit or pass out. Of the three categories of hazing this category
is the most severe. Many of the rituals found in this category constitute
criminal acts which will hold up in court if the evidence is available.
The three categories of hazing leave no room for someone to say that
they are at all acceptable. No matter what category one examines, the
definition clearly shows that one individual is subordinate to another.
And, whether it is a male or female who initiates these rituals the reality
of the situation is that these rituals are wrong and hazing knows no gender.
Hazing: A male or female issue? As mentioned earlier hazing
knows no gender. Unfortunately many would like to believe that such barbaric
acts could not be committed by females, but the truth of the matter is
that hazing is seen with both males and females. According to research
done by Alfred University (1999), when looking at the variety of hazing
incidents that are conducted, women usually lag behind the men with the
same situation by about five to eight percentage points on the average.
For example, when examining acts that fall under harassment hazing the
amount of men involved constituted 68% while women involved amounted to
63%. This is proof that hazing is not a gender issue, but that it is an
issue that must be examined more closely as a sport issue on the whole.
Since we are able to conclude based on the research data that this is
a sport issue, we must further examine when and where such incidents are
able to occur.
Hazing in the Media
High school hazing. As we have noted throughout the paper,
hazing is not an issue to be taken lightly. It knows no boundaries as
to when and where it will happen and it is not gender sensitive. And,
for those reasons in recent years more and more headlines have surfaced
about hazing situations within academic institutions. So in order to fully
understand the dynamics of how much of an impact hazing has had on high
school athletics and individuals we must examine a few examples.
First, one of the most notable cases took place on Long Island, New York
at Mepham High School. This case involved the boy’s varsity and
junior varsity football teams where the defendants engaged in a category
three hazing incident, bodily harm hazing. In this situation three varsity
football players were charged with sodomizing three younger J.V. players
(Weir, 2003). The three boys who led the hazing attacks were later charged
as minors on counts of aggravated assault and involuntary deviate sexual
intercourse. In addition to this, the coaches were fired from their coaching
positions for allowing previously known behaviors to spiral out of control.
Although these individuals were held accountable and given a sentence
in juvenile detention, the sentence for the victims was far worse. In
this situation the boys who endured the acts of sodomy have life sentences.
For one of the boys, he will have to go through numerous surgeries, another
has had to face continuous taunting from peers, and lastly, all three
of them have to live each day knowing that this type of situation could
have been prevented if the coaches had listened to the warnings prior
to camp that harassment by older players towards younger players had begun.
All in all, if the warning signs were taken seriously this incident may
have been preventable (Smith, 2003).
Another example of hazing that received a great deal of publicity in
high school athletics took place in Northbrook, a small suburb of Chicago,
Illinois. Unlike the previous example, this one explores the hazing rituals
of females. In this situation approximately twenty-eight girls and four
boys were involved in the annual powder puff football game where senior
girls turned a fun event into a violent attack on junior females (Kelly,
2003). In this instance, the brutal attack was videotaped. The annual
Powder Puff game was an unsanctioned school affair where senior girls
initiate junior girls for reasons that were undisclosed.
The nightmarish incident was not part of a sanctioned event and the students
involved only received a ten day suspension; the harshest possible sentence
according to the superintendent (Heyman, Sandler, & Williams, 2003).
Again, much like the victims in the previous example above, the junior
girls paid the ultimate price. One female was sent to the hospital for
stitches, another left with a broken ankle and yet numerous others ended
up with concussions all because prior warnings about hazing behaviors
were not taken seriously (Heyman, Sandler, & Williams, 2003).
So, with that being said, it is not surprising that such incidents have
had a negative impact on school districts and athletic programs. In both
of these situations the school districts received a great deal of national
exposure for failing to prevent hazing incidents under their jurisdiction.
In addition to this, entire school reputations were smeared by the actions
of a relatively few. In no situation does hazing bring about positive
publicity whether it is in high school or college.
College hazing. Unfortunately, hazing does not only occur in
high school. According to a study by Alfred University conducted in 1999,
nearly eighty-percent of college athletes have been hazed on one level
or another (Cuvelier, 2005). A number that high means that this issue
is very much alive in college athletics and it deserves further attention.
One of the biggest college cases that sparked further legislative advancements
in the area of sport hazing was a case involving the University of Vermont’s
Men’s Ice Hockey Team.
During this case, freshman hockey player, Corey LaTulippe was forced
to engage in an extreme form of hazing. When the night concluded and the
players left, LaTulippe made his own decision about his future as a member
of the Men’s Ice Hockey Team. In the days following the incident
LaTulippe left school and filed a lawsuit alleging assault and battery,
invasion of privacy and violation of his civil rights, his lawsuit sought
damages in the amount of $275, 000 dollars (O’Hara, 2000).
Unlike the high school cases mentioned earlier where victims failed to
benefit from the incidents, this case extended more benefits to its victim
and to the institution. Although LaTulippe has been left to face emotional
and psychological scars he was able to leave the negative environment
and his case had a positive impact on how the University of Vermont handles
hazing incidents. As a result of his lawsuit the school now requires athletes
to sign hazing contracts; team captains must receive leadership training
and the hockey team has since turned their negative initiation practices
into a weekend trip of mountain climbing (Rosellini, 2000). However, making
changes at one institution is only one step in the process of making legal
strides in combating this issue.
Hazing: A criminal case or civil case? While it may be true
that hazing is illegal in forty-three states, seven have no legislation
against it (Scott, 2004). As a result, in these seven states it is often
difficult to prove that you have grounds for either a civil or criminal
case. However, generally in the forty-three states that recognize hazing
as a crime, an individual can file both a criminal and civil case.
According to James Hart and Robert Ritson of the National Association
for Sport and Physical Education (2002),
…hazing can lead to not only state civil suits for negligence
but also to federal suits alleging deprivation of rights and criminal
charges…in hazing cases resulting in criminal trials and civil
suits that have been either decided at the trial court level or settled
out of court, few have been appealed…
With this being said, it is clear that those who are victim to a hazing
incident are able to hold other parties liable. However, depending on
the case will decide who and to what degree parties are accountable.
Who is accountable? Although both civil and criminal charges
can be filed, identifying who is to be held accountable can often times
be a difficult task to accomplish from state to state. For example, in
Georgia, public officers (including teachers) are entitled to immunity.
Thus, in regards to any cause of action declared against them in their
private capacity, when sued for discretionary acts taken within the scope
of their employment and without actual intent to harm they are granted
immunity and cannot be held accountable ( Hart & Ritson, 2002). In
this type of situation it is very difficult for a plaintiff to prove a
criminal case with legal grounds.
However, in the same situation if a victim is able to prove that the
duty of supervision was ministerial in function, which is not granted
immunity in Georgia, then grounds for a criminal suit may prove to be
much more successful (2002).
Unfortunately, laws vary dramatically from state to state when dealing
with hazing, and because of this, it is not only difficult to prove a
case but it is just as difficult to prove who is accountable a given situation.
As well, because hazing cases often settle out of court there have been
few cases that have been able to set a precedent in recognizing who is
accountable for cases that may eventually unfold.
What happens to individuals who haze others? Although many hazing
cases are difficult to prove there have been some that have been successful
at the judicial level. However, what happens to the perpetrators who initiate
the hazing incident depends greatly on the rules and laws of where the
incident took place. Research on successful cases shows the following
actions have been taken against defendants: removal from ones position,
juvenile detention, fines, monetary payment of punitive damages, termination
of athletic seasons, suspension from programs, and a variety of others.
All in all, when hazing cases are legally proven in court for the plaintiff
they carry heavy consequences for the perpetrators.
Problems for the Victim
What issues result for the victim? Soon after a case is closed
and the defendant receives his or her sentence, the parties are able to
go their separate ways. However, the case often times remains unofficially
open for the victim because the emotional and psychological issues that
result last long after any judgment has been finalized. According to Mothers
Against School Hazing (2005), hazing has the capacity to affect individuals
for the long term in the following areas: self-esteem, self-confidence,
feelings of self-worth, group unity, respect, friendship, trust, pride,
family interaction, trust with authority, and coping skills. All of these
are daily skills individuals need to survive. However, when a few of these
skills are compromised and are unable to flourish and grow as the person
matures, they are left to live in a state of confusion and turmoil which
leaves them reliving daily the horrors of the hazing incident (2005).
For that reason it is imperative that a victim of a hazing incident seek
the help and support necessary to make it through the difficult time.
Where to turn for help. When an individual suffers through a
hazing incident and is left to deal with the many emotional and psychological
issues that may result, it is important that the victim seek help. Therefore,
it is important that an individual seek the appropriate help from those
who can counsel them through the confusion and emotional scarring that
is left. Much like a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, and
other hate crimes individuals of a hazing incident will feel the very
same emotions. However, it is important that even though painful the victim
seek help immediately. To begin, the first person a victim should seek
is an adult whom he or she can trust that will believe his or her story.
If that is not an option the victim should contact police enforcement
to file a legal complaint against the assailants. Once a complaint has
been filed the victim should attempt to seek emotional and psychological
support from a trained professional who specializes in crimes of this
nature. The victim needs to feel empowered to report the crime. They need
to seek help from individuals who are supportive and help them understand
that they, in fact, are victims and not responsible for what happened
to them (SUNY Cortland Residential Services Staff Training, Personal Communication,
Barriers to Hazing
Common barriers. As shown throughout this paper, hazing is a
very difficult issue to overcome. Whether you are dealing with the legal
issues, the definitions of each type of hazing, or the problems that exist
after a hazing incident occurs, you must realize that hazing is a difficult
issue. For these exact reasons, it is easily recognizable that a variety
of barriers exist. However, in order to understand how to overcome such
barriers we must first examine the top six barriers that exist in hazing.
According to Briar College (2005), the six most recognizable barriers
in hazing are: denial of the problem; dismissal that hazing is harmless;
silence among the victims; fear among the victims; insufficient support
for the victim; and lastly, cultural norms that perceive hazing as normal.
All of these barriers present a complex social problem. Therefore, because
of the resulting social problem, it is important that those who are empowered
to reduce or eliminate hazing do so.
Fixing the barriers. If one wishes to overcome the barriers
that exist within any situation, then a proactive approach must be put
into effect. According to a variety of researchers and non-profit organizations
who are looking to defeat the issue of hazing there are a variety of tactics
that can be put in place. According to the Brown University Child &
Adolescent Behavior Letter (2003), there are at least six steps that can
be taken in overcoming the barriers that hazing presents. These six steps
“Educate yourself about state anti-hazing laws; know school anti-hazing
policies; collaborate with school officials and athletic departments in
developing anti-hazing policies; talk with your children or student about
the dangers of hazing; talk with other parents who may have had children
go through similar or the same athletic programs as your child or student
may go through; and lastly, be visible in the activities that your children
or students engage in.”
If the above steps are taken in correcting the problem of hazing, this
issue will soon be controllable, and fewer and fewer of the secret rituals
will be possible. It is important that we support our state and federal
governments in the formation of laws that prohibit acts of hazing within
the institution of sport.
Laws to break the barriers. Currently forty-three states have
laws that prohibit acts of hazing. Although anti-hazing laws have been
on the books since 1978, no state has been able to develop laws with as
much strength as those seen in Alabama. Within Alabama Law, there are
three separate main definitions to identify the three major types of hazing
that exist; the law accounts for bystanders who actively watch hazing
unfold; it identifies the offense whether misdemeanor or felony; it accounts
for individuals who do not report such acts; and it attempts to cover
all activities that happen both on and off premises of academic institutions
Although hazing laws exist in forty-three states there is still much
to do in overcoming the barriers that exist. Schools must be willing to
work together in developing their own anti-hazing policies. As well, on
all levels local, state and federal laws must be enforced and zero-tolerance
must exist for those who deem hazing as an appropriate initiation. In
time the barriers will be broken, and this problem will be on the decline.
Summary and Conclusions
Effects of hazing in sports. In conclusion, it is more than
clear that through discussion and analysis of this article that hazing
is detrimental to the institution of sport and its ability to build such
positive character qualities as strength, discipline, and work ethic.
Thus, if one commits to understanding the effects that hazing has on individuals,
teams, institutions, and sport on the whole, then we will eventually be
able to transform those who think that such initiation rituals are acceptable.
Alyson Peluso is pursuing her Master of Sport Science in Sports Management
at the United States Sports Academy. She teaches physical education at
LaGrange Middle School in LaGrangeville, N.Y. in one of the largest school
districts in the state.
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