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Hazing and Athletes

Dan Daly has an important commentary in today’s Washington Times about college athletes and team hazing. This is in response to the suspension of the Northwestern University women’s soccer team after pictures of its initiation rituals showed up online. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation. As Dan Daly asks, “Why do athletes stand for hazing?”

I must be culturally deprived, because on none of the high school and college teams I played -- basketball, baseball, football, even tennis for a season -- was anyone blindfolded, stripped down to his jockey shorts and asked to wait for further instructions. Nor were women hired to gyrate in our presence.

You see, back then, in the dark ages of the late 20th century, athletes didn't need such adventures to properly "bond." They spent more than enough time inhaling one another's body odors, more than enough time gasping for air and cursing the coach who kept asking for "one more" -- one more lap, one more line drill, one more up-down. That's where the unity came from -- from proximity and shared pain. You proved yourself to your teammates with your perspiration, mostly. No self-abasement was required.

Guess that's too boring for today's athletes. Leaving your blood on the playing field is no longer enough, apparently, to be granted membership in The Club. You have to leave your blood off the playing field, too -- or at least your dignity.

How did we get from making the freshmen carry the equipment bags to making the froshwomen (as we used to call them) frolic around in their panties while wearing T-shirts covered with assorted crudities -- scribbled, naturally, by the team elders.

This is also not limited to college athletes. There is a great deal of pressure put on high school athletes to fit in as well. Team drinking parties are common. It takes very strong character to walk away and say, “That’s not for me.” Coaches and athletic directors often turn a blind eye. They are hired to produce winning teams. Suspending the star player jeopardizes the season. Few athletic directors or coaches have the spine to do it.

My teenagers used to laugh at me because they always get “the lecture” before they go to a party.

If there is any drinking, any drugs, any sexual activity going on, you are to leave the party immediately. Don’t just stay and say, “I won’t drink or do drugs or engage in sex.” Your presence puts you at risk. Call me. I will come get you.

They laughed because they couldn’t imagine being in that situation. None of their friends would do anything like that. They didn’t take into account the friends of their friends or the cousins of their friends or the new teammates. They don’t laugh anymore. They have taken me up on my offer and I have retrieved them. Interestingly, parents were home when these parties got out of hand. They were just letting the kids have their “privacy”.

So to answer Dan Daly’s question, “Why do athletes stand for hazing?” Perhaps no one ever told them they have a value and dignity that goes beyond the touchdown pass or the laser shot on goal. No one has the right to compromise that dignity. They have a duty to protect it.


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