Boys will be boys and, lately, girls will be girls. People take things far too seriously, and a little fun never hurt anyone. If people could take jokes like they used to be able to, they’d see that pantsing and some spanking are just harmless games between soon-to-be friends and teammates.
Hazing isn’t a problem, the problem is a generation who just isn’t tough enough. Besides, no one meant for things to get out of control enough that anyone would be seriously hurt, and any penetration of bodily orifices was strictly an in the moment type of thing and probably an accident.
Stories about the entitlement complex of athletes and cases of men in sports sexually assaulting women are par for the course lately, but so are the arguments that place hazing firmly in the land of acceptable and normal. While some incidents catch public attention and receive national media coverage and ire, like the egregiously short sentence Brock Turner received after victimizing an unconscious woman or the recent viral video of coach Geno Auriemma firmly taking entitled athletes to task, many cases remained shrouded in obscurity.
American athletics programs are plagued with problems centering around consent and power plays, and these failings touch every level of serious sportsmanship. It’s impossible and unwise to discuss the moral failings of athletes without examining the toll of the long-standing practice of hazing, especially hazing that contains sexualized violence like the recent high school hazing case in Texas.
Hazing and Weak Penalties For It Are Common
Hazing isn’t a new practice in team sports. While many people think of ESPN as the place to go to watch games, read commentary on players and prospects, and check in on coaches, the network also maintains an extensive and terribly depressing history of hazing practices in sports, stretching back to 1980. Reading through the litany of offenses brings into sharp focus the commonalities, with almost all of the similar incidents centering on alcohol and some form of sodomy.
Also too common is that institutional penalties enacted by the teams and schools consist of missing a few games, and are more common than legal consequences, especially criminal charges of rape or sexual assault. Failing to treat hazing as seriously as any other assault bolsters the problematic attitudes of athletes surrounding the importance of consent. It bears repeating that using the body of another person for gratification and amusement, against their will and in ways designed to humiliate and degrade, is always wrong.
Small-town Texas sports bring to mind images of wholesomeness, of sportsmanship and friendships forged around love of the game and hope of future scholarships. Instead of this Mayberry-esque scene, however, the tiny town of La Vernia is grappling with an extensive case of hazing, involving dozens of students both as perpetrators and as victims. Far from good-natured teasing or amiable rites of passage, the hazing in this case was higher-level athletes sodomizing new recruits with objects.
This abuse stretches back years, and happened to players on football, baseball, and basketball teams. A parent summed up the situation well in explaining her feelings about the case: “I’m frustrated. If these things are going on in the school, how do I know my child is safe going there?”
Half of All Kids Are Hazed by College
Parents send their children to school expecting them to be protected and taken care of. They encourage them to join sports hoping for them to learn important life lessons and to keep them from getting in trouble, with experts chanting that: “Loving a sport will teach children vital life skills — discipline, motivation, commitment, and cooperation.” Sports are there to entertain, to teach lessons, to increase fitness, not to leave participants with physical and emotional wounds that last a lifetime.
Hazing isn’t acceptable or necessary, and it’s the worst part of organized sports. It’s too common, and it’s time for it to end. With nearly half of students experiencing hazing before entering college, this problem reaches more than just the children immediately involved. Their siblings, their friends, their families are all affected by the expectation that joining a team means tolerating, and then perpetrating, hazing.
Susan Lipkins, a psychologist and expert in hazing, explains hazing as: “It’s a process based on a tradition used by groups to maintain the hierarchy or to discipline, and regardless of consent, the activities themselves are either physically or psychologically potentially harmful.” She also explains why it happens, and the rationale should help parents and coaches understand why the problem starts with high school sports: “It’s the first time that the clubs and sports really count, and there’s a hierarchy and a pecking order.”
Organized sports aren’t going away in America, and we don’t really want them to. Sports entertain us, bring us together, and distract us from daily life when things are hard. What does need to end, and end immediately, is the hazing and violence so interwoven with sports culture. There has to be a better way to bring teams together than older members abusing the younger, and treating hazing as completely unacceptable would help reinforce that raping and assaulting people outside the sports bubble is also totally wrong. It’s time for sponsors and coaches, parents and former athletes, to stand up and demand that sports be sports, not a breeding ground of perversity.