Last month, the Los Angeles Times published an article detailing the decline of hazing in professional sports arenas such as the NFL, NBA and MLB. Hazing is one of several negative behaviors that professional athletes model for today’s youth and I can only hope that the movement away from hazing continues. Sure some of the reported hazing rituals such as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ “annual rookie talent show” and requiring rookies to carry veterans’ equipment or the Cincinnati Reds making rookies wearing silly outfits on team trips are harmless, but even the grown men of professional sports have been known to cross the line into injurious hazing. In 1998, New Orleans Saints rookies Cam Cleeland and Jeff Danish were forced to seek medical treatment after undergoing hazing incidents that the media likened to gang initiation. Cleeland was “clubbed [in the eye] by a bag of coins” and Danish was “shoved through a window.” Can we really expect teens to abide by the distinction of harmless and hazardous hazing if even adults cannot seem to? Should we even allow harmless hazing?
According to Dr. Susan Lipkins, an expert on campus violence and hazing, many people haze because they “believe that it is a necessary rite of passage that creates bonds within the group,” but does it really? I doubt it, especially if the hazing rituals are similar to those that made ESPN.com’s 2002 list of hazing incidents in the media since 1980. The list details incidents where victims were sexually assaulted with objects like broom handles, mop sticks and wire hangers, forced to shoplift or perform various tasks while nude. Is gaining the acceptance of one’s peers really worth undergoing such physical and emotional discomfort? During a developmental stage where most teens are searching for acceptance, they may be more willing to withstand the degrading acts in favor of acceptance. I do not doubt that some victims of hazing wind up feeling closer with their teammates after hazing rituals, but what about those victims who suffer enough trauma that they quit the team or continue playing only to feel alienated by the rest of their teammates (especially if they violated the ‘code of silence’ by reporting the incident). Even the seemingly harmless hazing acts of carrying veterans’ equipment can set the tone that the rookies are subordinates or inferior to the veterans of the team. It sounds more like division than bonding to me.