Roughly a year ago I wrote a blog post about hazing, which was prompted by the media coverage of the hazing allegations made by Jonathan Martin, an offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins. My Google News search regarding Jonathan Martin’s story turned up numerous stories of other hazing incidents concerning not just NFL players, but also firemen, college wrestlers and fraternity brothers.
I wondered if now, a year later, hazing is still as prevalent as it was then. Like I did last year, I ran Google News search. Sadly, although not surprisingly, this search turned up as many incidents as last year’s did.
The first, and most prominent, recent hazing scandal involves a high school football team in Sayreville, New Jersey. The allegations in this case, which include sexual assaults of freshmen by their older teammates, prompted the school’s superintendent to cancel the football season. The coaching staff and seven students were suspended, and last month the same seven students were arrested. The case has cast a spotlight on the local community, particularly the varied ways in which residents perceived the hazing. For example, according to at least one news report, one of the three victims characterized the hazing as team bonding and didn’t consider it a “big deal.”
This lack of consensus as to what constitutes hazing (vs. what is just team bonding) is also exemplified in the news stories coming from a small town in Upstate New York. Like the allegations made in Sayreville, the allegations coming from Groton, New York concern the high school football team’s older students physically abusing their younger teammates. In discussing the Groton hazing, Travis Apgar, Cornell University’s Dean of Students, points out that hazing has been a part of some organizations for so long that many dismiss it as a part of growing up or a rite of passage.
But perhaps public opinion is beginning to change when it comes to such violent and horrific “rites of passage”? Last month a jury found a Florida A&M University band member guilty of felony hazing and manslaughter stemming from the beating of a fellow band member. The jury rejected the argument that the physical assault, in which the deceased band member ran up and down the aisle of the band bus while other members punched him, kicked him, and beat him with drum mallets, was merely a “band tradition.”
As these recent news stories show, most incidents of hazing are defended by claims of normal camaraderie. But even events that have been tradition for years can be more than just signs of “friendship.”