Archive for Dangers of Hazing

DANGERS OF HAZING: What Needs to Be Done to Prevent Such Attacks

Official Responses to Hazing

 By Doug Abrams

The Ooltewah (Tenn.) High School boys’ varsity basketball season is over. The school superintendent canceled the remainder of the schedule on January 6, after three older players were arrested for allegedly raping a 15-year-old freshman teammate in a cabin during the team’s overnight stay at a tournament in nearby Gatlinburg on December 22. The attack smacked of hazing, an abuse frequently discussed on and in other youth sports circles.

One of the three Ooltewah perpetrators allegedly stuck a pool cue up the victim’s rectum, causing severe lacerations that required a week’s hospitalization after emergency surgery to repair the colon and bladder. The other two perpetrators allegedly pinned the victim on a bed and, according to the victim, filmed the assault on a cell phone. According to WRCB-TV, the three alleged assailants (who are unnamed in the media so far because they are minors) face charges of aggravated rape and aggravated assault, both felonies.

The school superintendent said that he canceled the season to allow law enforcement’s investigation to proceed without disruption. But allegations quickly surfaced that Ooltewah’s basketball program has tolerated a culture of hazing and bullying marked by a pattern of assaults unremedied by coaches or other school authorities.

Absent from the Ooltewah news accounts are statements from other players’ parents complaining that canceling the team’s season unfairly stigmatizes their sons for the misconduct of a few. Such statements sometimes arise when hazing results in sanctioning an entire team, but the Ooltewah assault’s utter savagery may have turned the tables here. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports say that the superintendent acted following mounting community anger directed at school authorities for inaction.

Prevention and Response

Rick Wolff has treated hazing issues several times on “The Sports Edge” and on I share his disgust with the practice and his calls for meaningful prevention efforts, including written anti-hazing policies backed by removal from the team or other stern punishment for violation. Brooke de Lench, executive director of the MomsTEAM Institute, also places obligations for prevention where they belong — on parents, and on coaches and other league officials.

In any field of endeavor, however, no prevention effort can prevent 100% of the targeted conduct. Just last month, Reuters wrote about a new research paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The researchers found that “hazing is still common in U.S. youth and collegiate sports,” including teams whose institutions presumably maintain written anti-hazing and anti-bullying policies.

Written policies and other prevention efforts have teeth only when authorities vigorously enforce them. Regardless of how events play out in Ooltewah, the remainder of this column provides some general thoughts about how parents, coaches, school authorities, and youth sports associations’ boards of directors should respond when hazing occurs.

When Hazing Happens

Without canceling the season, authorities may discipline the perpetrators while allowing the rest of the team to resume playing. Each case must be judged on its own merits. Are school or team authorities confident that they have correctly identified the perpetrators? Did the perpetrators comprise a sizeable percentage, or a majority, of the team? Was the rest of the team really innocent? Did other players try to cover up the hazing afterwards? Do the other players refuse to identify the perpetrators? What did one or more of the coaches or other authorities know?

Some hazing is so serious that canceling the season is the soundest response. (If the facts are as alleged, the Ooltewah incident would qualify.) Where one or more players ignore a written anti-hazing or anti-bullying policy, prevention efforts have obviously failed. A known culture of hazing and bullying, sustained over time, also demonstrates failure.

To stem existing patterns of abuse and to prevent future abuse, more dramatic official response may be necessary. Cancelling the season, publicized in the school or the media, may send players and their families a message more forcefully than suspending individual players from school or the team, or both, and letting the game schedule proceed.

If authorities cancel the season (or otherwise discipline the entire team) for the misconduct of a few, such collective discipline is consistent with the nature of team sports. Collective punishment may be advisable if the guilty players cannot be identified, or if (as discussed above) a dramatic sanction may seem in order.

One way or another, punishing the entire team is supportable because teams rise or fall as a unit. (Remember the old saying, that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’”) If three members of a varsity basketball team combine for a last-second buzzer beater that wins the game, every player – including ones on the bench – share in the victory. If three members commit acts of hazing, every player may share in adverse consequences imposed after authorities do fact finding and consider various options.

Authorities should tread carefully, however, before sanctioning the entire team for the misconduct of a few unnamed perpetrators. For example, imposing team-wide consequences might tar the future reputations of innocent team members, who might remain subject to speculation from employers, colleges, and others about whether they participated in the wrongdoing.

In most states today, however, if the perpetrators are adjudicated in juvenile court for serious crimes such as aggravated rape or aggravated assault, their identities will become part of the public record. If perpetrators of a violent hazing are tried in adult court, their individual identities will also become publicly known.

Much or most hazing probably never reaches law enforcement or the media. In the absence of criminal or juvenile charges, the perpetrators may not remain anonymous for long because kids talk, even when the perpetrators do not film their assaults.


Sources:  Tenn. Code Annotated, sec. 39-13-502 (2015) (aggravated rape), sec. 39-13-102 (2015) (aggravated assault); Stephen Hargis and Kendi Anderson, Ooltewah Students Charged With Rape, Assault After Teammate Injured With Pool Cue, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Dec. 29, 2015; David Carroll, Supt. Smith Cancels Ooltewah Basketball Season (Jan. 6, 2016); Ooltewah High School Basketball Season Canceled: School Officials Under Gag Order, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Jan. 7, 2016; Brooke de Lench, Bullying: An Ongoing Problem In Youth Sports, (May 12, 2009, and 2013 update); Reuters, Hazing Still Common in Collegiate, Youth Sports (Dec. 24, 2015). (reporting on Alex B. Diamond et al., Qualitative Review of Hazing in Collegiate and School Sports: Consequences From a Lack of Culture, Knowledge and Responsiveness, British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2015)).



DANGERS OF HAZING: After a Serious Hazing Incident, HS Football Players Win the Right to Continue Season

Well, if it’s HS football season… then unfortunately, it’s also hazing season.

That’s not to say that hazing doesn’t occur in all sports…it certainly does.  But that being said, hazing seems to be an unwanted annual tradition when it comes to HS football — and especially during August football training camps.

Now, of course, Sayreville HS  of New Jersey was in the national headlines last year, and this past week, that case was adjudicated in juvenile court with several Sayreville HS football players being hit with various punishments. Since they were minors in the eyes of the law, most of them received slaps on the wrists – 50 hours of community service and placed on probation for a year.

Of course, being a minor is no excuse for being stupid or cruel to one’s teammates, but the prosecutor made his ruling.

Personally  — I’m not sure that 50 hours of community service and a year of probation makes the victims of these hazing crimes feel vindicated, but that’s a discussion for another time. I mean, if it were your kid who had been hazed, how would you feel about this ruling?

My point is this….each year we discuss the hazards of hazing, and each year, it never seems to go away. Hazing seems to be fully entrenched in American sports —  and no matter how many times we warn our kids, or hold seminars, the athletes either feel our warnings don’t apply to them, or that they won’t be caught.

And now….here’s our latest hazing incident making headlines. This one is courtesy of Susan B. Wagner HS in Staten Island, where it’s alleged that in late August at an upstate NY football training camp, a number of upperclassmen on the Wagner football team hazed sophomores and antagonized freshman players.

Such hazing accusations included: older players shooting at younger players with a BB gun… drawing obscene cartoons on the younger kids with a permanent marker…players being hit with a broom… and pushing one’s butt into the face of younger players.

Now, again, these are merely allegations at this point…nothing has been proven yet.  But the principal at Wagner HS immediately suspended all football practices AND all games until the investigation is done.

But here’s where this hazing case gets a little interesting….

A bunch of HS seniors on the Wagner football team threatened to file a lawsuit against the Dept of Education saying it’s not fair for the ENTIRE football team to be punished…that their season is now in jeopardy of not happening, that this is the last year they can play varsity football, that they run the risk of losing possible college football scholarships, and that only those kids who were responsible for the hazing should be punished – NOT the entire team.

Now, that’s an interesting point of view — and these seniors were most serious.

They’re claiming that this hazing was only committed by a handful of players, and that it’s not fair to ruin the entire football season because of these miscreants.

And here’s the interesting twist: this past Friday, the Dept of Education basically AGREED with the senior players, and they have LIFTED the suspension on Wagner HS football. In short, the kids are allowed to go back and resume football practices and play games.

Apparently, once the hazing allegations had been uncovered over the last few weeks, the four or five players who were directly involved have been suspended and are the process of being disciplined. But the rest of the team is now cleared to go back to practicing and to continue their games.

In short, because of a handful of bad apples, the school was ready to cancel the season. After all, that universally seems to be the precedent for hazing on a HS team. Just as it happened at Sayreville HS last fall when their season was cancelled and in that case, the long-time coach was dismissed as well.

This reversal by the Dept of Education, then, represents a precedent-setting kind of ruling: that school officials should not immediately cancel a season, but rather, only focus on those kids who were the troublemakers. Sounds like common sense, to be sure, but again, that has rarely been the pattern in these hazing cases.

Was this right thing to do? Are these senior football players to be saluted for sticking up for their last HS season? And how does an administrator figure out which specific kids are to be punished?

And of course, the question needs to be asked: how could the coaches not be aware of these kinds of shenanigans? Most coaches will tell you that they hear rumors and gossip all the time about their players – if that’s true, is it possible that these coaches weren’t aware of something going on? And why didn’t the senior players — who must have heard something about the hazing plans – why didn’t they speak up and prevent this from happening?

These are tough questions, but they need to be asked. After all, hazing still haunts our kids in HS, and until we can find a real way to eradicate it, sadly, it’s just going to continue.

DANGERS OF HAZING: What Will Happen in Sayreville, NJ – A Scary Proposition for All Involved


                                 By Steve Kallas


By now you probably know that seven members of the Sayreville High School varsity football team have been arrested and charged with serious crimes in the alleged sexual assaults of at least four freshman football players.  This week, SNY TV produced a one-hour special, ably hosted by Chris Carlin, to discuss numerous angles in this “Scandal in Sayreville” (that’s the title of the show, which will be re-aired on SNY at 6:30 PM on Friday and 7 PM on Saturday – full disclosure, this writer is one of the panel members on the show).

There are, of course, emotions running high on both sides: those who are furious that the varsity, junior varsity and freshman football seasons were cancelled and those who are shocked and appalled at the notion that, if the allegations are true, kids were sexually assaulting other kids with, apparently, no coach with knowledge that anything was going on.


From a potential criminal liability perspective, specifically in terms of potential sentencing, arguably the biggest battle is whether these kids, ranging in age from 15-17, will be charged as juveniles or adults.

As you might imagine, the differences in potential sentencing if convicted (remember, all are innocent until proven guilty) are astronomical.  At the high end of the charges, for crimes like aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault (the accused are charged with holding down and digitally penetrating freshman football players), if tried as adults, players can be sentenced for up to 10 or even 20 years in prison.  If tried as juveniles, the sentences are far more lenient.

Three of the seven are charged with the most serious crimes; but the other four are also charged with various crimes that have a huge disparity in potential sentencing.  For example, the crime of criminal restraint comes with a three to five-year sentence if one is tried and convicted as an adult, but only up to a 60-day sentence if one is tried and convicted as a juvenile.

Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey has stated that the factors he must consider in making this decision include the seriousness of the crime, the history of the juveniles involved (first-time arrest?) and the wishes of the victim(s).

Most telling for the Sayreville case, Mr. Carey told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan the following:  “If you put somebody in jail for a significant time, they’re not going to come out of jail a better person.  There’s a chance we can help everybody involved and help Sayreville to heal and to move on from this.”

That’s a very strong statement that would seem to indicate that Mr. Carey is leaning towards treating these kids as juveniles and not adults.  While Mr. Carey has a couple more weeks to decide this issue, this may be the time where some of the seven charged would at least consider, with their parents and attorneys, making a deal with the prosecutor.



One disturbing factor in this case is that there were far more (to a lesser degree) than four victims on the freshman football team.  For example, there are a number of published reports that state that many freshmen were afraid of the upperclassmen, that they would dress outside of the locker room, that they would not take showers or take them very quickly to get out of the locker room.

While the four victims, if true, were the most victimized, it says here that all of these young kids were victims in varying degrees.

But it would seem that all of these freshmen were further victimized by having their season cancelled by the superintendent and the school board.  A number of parents of varsity players vehemently stated at school board meetings that their kids, who did nothing wrong, should not be punished.  But there seems to have been no outcry on behalf of the freshmen; no discussion, at least publicly, about whether the freshman season should have continued.  While there seems to be a general view among objective people that the varsity program had to be totally shut down, one cannot find any discussion, article, blog post, anything, on the freshman football team.

Would the community have rallied around a freshman team that was allowed to play after at least four of its kids were victimized by upperclassmen?

Well, that’s something we will never know.  But, at a minimum, that should have been considered separate and apart from any decision with respect to the varsity team.

Some freshmen have been victimized for a third time.  According to published reports, the names of a couple of the accusing freshmen have been bandied about on social media.  One can only imagine the grief they are getting – one kid told the New York Times that the backlash “made me want to shoot myself.”

So, while people can hope and say that the community should all get behind these freshmen and support them, the reality is that’s a pipe dream.  While all should be done to protect them, mentally and physically, the truth is, when someone has the courage to come forward, they are going to be vilified by certain members of the community.  Like it or not, that’s just the way it is – in Mepham, Long Island, in Steubenville, Ohio and, yes, in Sayreville, New Jersey.


Well, what about the coaches?  At best, they were totally ignorant of what was going on.  Apparently, Coach George Najjar, a Hall of Fame coach in New Jersey, simply had no idea that any of this was happening.  While it’s hard to believe that no coach (apparently the head coach had 12 assistants in his football program) knew anything about any of this, if they didn’t, then, at a minimum, they are guilty of some kind of non-feasance, of some kind of lack of supervision.

While five of these coaches, who are also tenured teachers (Coach Najjar is a physical education teacher), have been suspended (with pay), it’s hard to believe that they will be allowed to return to coaching football at Sayreville if the allegations are true.   Whether they keep their teaching jobs is a separate and more difficult issue.

According to one published report at, Coach Najjar told his team, the day before the first cancellation of a varsity football game, “I don’t trust you guys anymore.”  It seems that the coach believed that the players should police their own locker room and that he was rarely, if ever, in it (apparently the coaches’ room is separate and apart from where the players dress for practice and games).

Many other coaches have opined that, in 2014, it’s hard, if not impossible, to leave kids alone as they dress and undress before and after practices.  Coach Najjar, who has been coaching for at least 30 years, maybe didn’t realize the changing dynamics of youth sports in the 21st Century.

But it seems clear that somebody should have been there in a supervisory capacity.  “Where were the coaches?” is the common refrain one has heard from many people.

Coach Najjar has made no substantive comment on these allegations.  Presumably, he has either consulted with or hired an attorney who has advised him not to say anything.


 Part of the coaches’ defense (and none of them have been charged with anything), at least as articulated by an assistant coach at this past Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, is that the coaches were never given required anti-bullying training.  New Jersey has one of the toughest (some would say the toughest) anti-bullying laws in the country, revised as recently as 2011 to spell out what has to be done.

A review of the law and a review of the Sayreville School District’s website shows that, at least on paper, these changes have been implemented.  Indeed, with respect to training, Sayreville War Memorial High School gave itself nine out of a possible nine rating in its 2014-15 “Anti-Bullying Self-Assessment Ratings” for “Training on the BOE-approved HIB Policy” (that would be the Board of Education-approved Hazing, Intimidation and Bullying Policy).

Of course, we are probably all skeptical of “self-assessments.”  But this should not be hard to prove one way or the other.  If these coaches were not trained, that’s a big problem for the school district.


Arguably the most shocking claim at Tuesday’s Board of Ed meeting was set forth by assistant coach Robert Berardi, who accused Superintendent Richard Labbe of “celebrating” the demise of the football team and its coaches, saying Labbe said things like “we finally got them” and “they’re done.”

While that charge seems far-fetched and was totally rejected by the superintendent and the board, it turns out that the superintendent started as a teacher at Sayreville in 1990 and was an assistant football coach there in the early ‘90s.  The conspiracy theory goes that the superintendent was apparently relieved of his coaching duties in 1994 – when present coach George Najjar came to Sayreville and took over the football program.


The superintendent does seem like somebody who really cares about the kids and the school district.  While it’s a stretch to this writer that such a thing would happen, there will be conspiracy theorists out there, as well as people who hold the cancellation of the season against this superintendent, who will believe that this was a vindictive guy settling an old score.

Again, hard to believe.


One of the unjust (at this time) outcomes of the scandal in Sayreville is what has happened to the football team’s star running back.  He had accepted, at least verbally, a scholarship to Penn State to play football next year.  While it’s not clear that he is one of the seven charged (reports are that there was police activity at his house the day six of the seven were arrested), Penn State went ahead and stated that he no longer has a scholarship offer from the school.  Apparently, that’s the case whether he was involved or not.

But this is really disgusting.  Whether charged or not, this kid has been found guilty by Penn State.  Unfortunately for him, Penn State, in the wake of the horrific Jerry Sandusky scandal, is probably the worst school in the country to have a scholarship from when these kinds of Sayreville accusations exist.  Not surprisingly, Penn State ran the other way when they got even a sniff of the allegations.

So this kid is guilty until proven innocent.  And even if he’s proven innocent (or not even charged), he apparently has lost his chance to play at Penn State.  A sad state of affairs.


The pink elephant in the room, of course, is the specter of lawsuits coming down the pike.  At least one victim was scheduled to meet with a top New Jersey lawyer, according to a published report.  That lawyer has already categorized the attacks as “rape.”

So you have the possibility of victims suing the school district (deep pockets there), maybe the coaches, maybe the perpetrators.  The three victims in the Mepham, Long Island case sued that school district and settled, according to one of the attorneys in that case, for “lots of money.”

If the coaches get fired, or even if they believe they have been wrongly suspended,

they may very well wind up suing the school district and/or others.

If the lawyers want to make it really sticky, they may wind up suing board of education members and/or the superintendent individually (whether they can recover in that capacity is a different issue), in addition to the school district.


Well, obviously, the whole thing is a mess.  But it would seem, that with proper supervision, all of this could have very likely been avoided.

This is (another) wake-up call for school districts in general and coaches in particular.  While nobody believes that coaches are responsible for watching their players 24/7, it seems clear that, at a minimum, what goes on in the locker rooms of America has to be supervised and monitored by those in charge.

Whether that’s a coach or some kind of security guard or an “anti-bullying specialist” (who had to be hired under the New Jersey law) remains to be seen.

But something has to be done.

And the time is now.





DANGERS OF HAZING: How to Finally Put an End to This Abusive Behavior

As I discussed in length on my radio show this morning (and by the way, if you want to hear any of my shows, you can listen to the podcast at, the time has finally come to stand up and eradicate hazing from our schools.

Now, I write that, knowing full well that hazing is one of the most insidious epidemics in our schools, and that it exists all over the country. What happened in Sayreville, NJ happens in countless other school districts: the sobering news is that probably only a handful of these abusive hazing incidents are ever reported. Why? Because the victims are terrified to come forth and because the miscreants don’t have the courage to apologize for their heinous acts.

As a result, if parents, coaches, and school administrators want to get rid of hazing, they need to work together to build a strong commitment to educate all students about the horrors of hazing, bullying, and taunting.

Here are some suggestions I’d like to put forth:

1…Educate ALL students as to what actually constitutes hazing. In my experience, most kids have no idea how to define hazing. So start with that. Have a classroom session in which teachers and coaches literally explain to their students what hazing is.

Ask them, for example, whether it’s considered hazing to make the freshmen carry the equipment to and from practice everyday (it is). Ask them whether it’s considered hazing if a senior makes a freshman run errands for him (it is). You get the idea…explain and define to the athletes what hazing is, and how it has to be recognized as such.

2….Review the HS Code of Conduct. Most Codes are nice gestures, but they tend to offer second and third chances for infractions. The feeling is that teenagers make mistakes, and as such, they should be given second chances. That’s a nice gesture, but when it comes to hazing and bullying, there’s no need for second chances. Kids have to be strongly educated that hazing is a serious crime. As such, we need to get them to think ahead of the consequences of their actions. That’s the key: THINK AHEAD…BECAUSE YOU WOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS.

3….If that sound like zero tolerance, well, yes it is. Zero tolerance needs to come back into style. You need to warn kids over and over again that if they haze or bully a teammate, then they will be immediately dismissed from the team permanently, and that they might face criminal charges? Harsh stuff? Yes, it is. But we’re talking about a serious offense here, so get their attention. And keep reminding them.

4….Here are other new mandates to put  into place — and coaches, a lot of this involves getting the complete cooperation of your senior athletes:

5….First, Coaches, meet with the seniors, and explain how you need them to step up and stop any hazing. Tell them to reach out to the younger players on the team…make them feel welcome…give them positive feedback…in other words, be a true leader, and not a tormentor. If you talk directly with your senior players, and empower them to take charge, then they will. Make them step up. 

6…As mentioned, do not force the younger players to carry equipment or do other menial chores. In fact, turn it around. Seniors, YOU do those tasks…make it clear that all ties to previous hazing rituals are being wiped away. What a great way to really build a sense of camaraderie by having the seniors lead the way in terms of handling menial tasks.

7……Athletic directors and Booster clubs, put up banners and posters that your school takes pride in being hazing free….make it a concerted effort to make it a point of pride. Let the world know that hazing has been eradicated from your school.

8….And finally, coaches, make sure you are physically present in the locker room before and after all practices…also, have at least one coach sit in the back of the bus for road games…in short, don’t give the kids a chance to misbehave.

Yes, this will take a lot of hard work, at least in the beginning. But once you make it clear that hazing is not allowed, but that it’s not considered “cool” in your community, it’s a good bet that hazing will finally go away. For good.

DANGERS OF HAZING: How Can We Stop the Madness from Continuing?

Hazing has seemingly been an American tradition in sports for decades.

The problem is – it’s not a tradition that anyone wants.

Even worse, schools/coaches/parents have had a deuce of a time trying to eradicate this terrible habit.

The latest episode has occurred at Sayreville HS in New Jersey where, according to numerous reports, seven HS varsity football players allegedly pinned down several freshman players to the floor and then forcibly sodomized them as part of some sort of hazing, or rite of passage, issue.

Sayreville, which has had a superior football program in recent years in terms of wins and losses, has now had the rest of its football season cancelled, and seven ringleaders of the hazing have been indicted and charged with a variety of serious assault crimes.

It’s a total lose-lose for everyone involved. The victims, their families, the players who did the assaults, the other kids on the team, the school, and of course, the entire community.

Hazing incidents, sadly, are nothing new. The Sayreville incident reminded me of a similar tragedy 10 years ago at Mepham HS on Long Island, where another football hazing involving sodomy of younger players. Everybody was outraged then as well, and called for stronger educational measures to prevent hazing from ever happening again.

But of course, hazing continues. And it’s just not football. Each week there are horrible reports of older HS student-athletes in soccer, basketball, wrestling, baseball, ice hockey and so on where they put their younger teammates through all sorts of unnecessary and unneeded torture.

So how do we stop hazing? Here’s my two cents:

1– Make a strong, concerted, and ongoing commitment in your school to get in front of hazing. Continuously educate ALL the students about the dangers of hazing, tell them about Sayreville and Mepham HS. Tell them how the University of Vermont cancelled its men’s ice hockey season a few years ago due to hazing among its players. Let them know that perpetrators of these crimes end up in court, facing an array of serious charges.

2 — Many kids think it’s just a joke or a prank. Your job is to let them know it’s anything but a joke or prank.

3 — Some seniors think that since they had to endure hazing when they were younger, it’s now their obligation to continue the practice. That is, they don’t want to be known as the senior class which broke the chain of this so-called rite of passage.

4 — Turn it around. Work with your senior athletes and strongly encourage them to BE the FIRST class which had the courage to break of chain of hazing. Make your school take pride in being a “hazing free” kind of environment.

5 — Finally, parents…alas, you need to sit down and talk candidly with your kids. Explain to them that hazing is a serious matter, and is not to be treated lightly. Tell them that they may need to find the courage someday to step up and to stop their friends and teammates from following through on such an act. This is definitely not easy for a youngster to do, but it needs to be done.  Tell them to imagine if they were the victim.

DANGERS OF HAZING: How We Can Stop this Age-Old “Tradition”

The time has finally come to put an end to this age-old “tradition” or “rite of passage” where older HS athletes pick on younger teammates in order to make them “part of the team.”

In recent years, the number of hazing incidents has increased dramatically (especially because upperclassmen seem compelled to post their hazing antics online). This reality,  also fueled by a number of states which have passed anti-bullying laws which force teachers to report ay kind of bullying incidents they may witness, has moved the issue of hazing into a front-and-center concern.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: older HS athletes seem to fully embrace the idea that “we were hazed when we were freshmen, so it’s only right that now that we’re seniors, that this crop of freshmen should endure what we did.”

Even worse, as a recent article in the Chicago Tribune pointed out, too many HS student-athletes today not only don’t have a problem with hazing, but they actually see it as a kind of positive team-building and bonding process. They even think that the victim eventually comes to realize that he or she “benefits” from the “unifying bonding” that goes on.

That may be hard to believe – but that’s one of the reasons why hazing still continues. Experts in this field insist that the only way to break the cycle is to bombard today’s athletes with numerous lectures by coaches and parents that not only is hazing actually detrimental and destructive to a team, but it also carries the potential for serious criminal charges.

The most recent example comes from the prestigious Bronx HS of Science in which three upperclasmen athletes on the track team allegedly have been picking on and hazing a freshman runner for several months. While the case is still under investigation, numerous media reports here in NYC are strongly suggesting that these three boys are facing serious criminal charges.

So, how can hazing be stopped? As mentioned, education and more education is where we start. HS athletes have to be taught over and over again that hazing is not a joke, that it’s not good for team unity, and that there are serious consequences. Bear in mind that the number of suicides from HS athletes who have been bullied has risen dramatically in the last decade.

Two, coaches should empower HS seniors on their team to openly report and even intervene if they see any evidence of hazing. For example, rather than have only the freshman carry the heavy equipment bags for the team, have the senior pitch in and help. Having seniors interact with freshman is the real way to build team unity – not by terrorizing them.

By the way, be aware that girls are just as likely to haze their younger teammates as boys are. Middle schoo “mean girls” still thrive on teams when they get to HS.

As a coach, be proactive. Come up with new ways to let your players know that you want the seniors to — instead of looking down on freshmen – to actually try and make them feel unique and special. That kind of different and enlightened approach will go a long way towards getting rid of any athletic hazing tradition.

And finally, remind the team members that hazing penalties go far beyong the HS Code of Conduct. More states do consider hazing a serious crime, and as such, if nothing else, kids should be aware of the consequence of their wayward actions.