A high school tragedy


Hazing is often winked at as a benign initiation ritual, but it has a tendency to spiral out of control, as it did in the horrific events at Long Island's Mepham High. A 6'2", 245-pound senior sat on a 145-pound jayvee player while a hulking junior linebacker pulled down the player's shorts, dipped a broomstick in Mineral Ice - an ointment that burns when applied to sensitive skin - and forcibly sodomized him. They sodomized three players at least 10 times.

In the pros, last September, three weeks after the Mepham attacks, New York Yankees rookies were forced to to parade in flamboyant women's clothing in front of eager media from around the world.

At the New Orleans Saints' 1998 training camp, two dozen veterans escalated the usual hazing - in which rookies were forced to sing college fight songs and get their heeds shaved - by herding five players, their heads covered with pillowcases, through a gantlet of punches, pushes and wallops with coin-filled bags (results in 13 stitches for one player.)

During the 1999-2000 season, the University of Vermont was rocked when a group of hockey players forced either freshmen and a walk-on goalie to take part in an "elephant walk" parading around naked while holding each other's genitals.

How widespread is hazing? According to a 1999 study conducted by Alfred (N.Y.) University, 80% of the NCAA athletes in surveyed said they had been subjected to some form of hazing at the college level. Alarmingly, 42% of that group reported they had also been hazed in high school.

Girls do it too. Last May in annual powder-puff football tradition between junior and senior girls from Glenbrook North High in suburban Chicago of a video made of the seniors punching, kicking and smearing a concoction of house paint, fish gut, and human feces on the juniors, sending five of them to the hospital.

And, it's not just the initial acts by the perpetrators. School officials, advisors, teachers, and students can be as bad, ridiculing the victims and supporting the perpetrators. In fact, every principal of every Nassau County public high school, signed a public letter of support for the local principal Didden saying they would have responded the same way under the circumstances. (Read the SI article - would you respond - rather basically ignore complaints - the way the principle did? If not, would you consider sending your child to any school in Nassau County, a county whose principals apparently support a high-tolerance policy for hazing versus a zero-tolerance policy.)

The disposition won't happen before January 5. The Judge will choose from one of three options: probation, placement in a wilderness boot camp, or residency in a treatment center until no later than age 21. Because they are being treated as juveniles, the perpetrators' offenses will not appear on their adult criminal records.

The victims, of course, received a far harsher sentence, one that has no specific release date, no provision to wipe clear their record of those harrowing five days and their aftermath. Even now the three young teenage boys endure a seemingly ceaseless wave of humiliation on top of the one they absorbed at Camp. Has the school or officials or coaches or parents done anything to the perpetrators of these continued attacks? Not to our knowledge. Has there been any consideration of teaching about this kind of behavior? Again, no. Everyone wants to get back to "normal" as quickly as possible. So, basically, the attacks gone on and noone seems to care.

Yet in a tragedy defined by cowardly acts - by bullies torturing small kids, by witnesses failing to stop or report the violence, but authority figures shirking responsibility (and by classmates continuing to harass the victims with no action taken by school officials once again) - the three victims soldier on, drawing support from family and friends, sucking in a deep breath each morning as they walk through the doors of Mepham High. That's a lot more courage than they'll see from any proposed course called "What does it take to be a courageous person?" The workshop facilitators should have the three victims teach this one.

Source: For the complete, 8 1/2 page article, see Sports Illustrated, 12/22/03

Related Topics:  Issues: Brothers in Harm, Hazing, Fraternity, An Optoin - Strengthening the Bonds: A Positive Fraternity Pledge Program for the 21st Century; and Books

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