It’s 2014. Time to Stop Hazing.
I was a three-sport athlete in high school and played a Division I college sport, so I am not new to the concept of “team bonding.”
Athletic teams having the most success are usually the teams with talent, yes, but also ones that rely heavily on synergy — weaving together a team of individuals into the one, collective winning force. But where and when hazing rituals became part of such team building is unclear. And the recent allegations of such rituals at Central Bucks West High in Doylestown have tainted that institution’s proud football program forever.
Here’s what allegedly happened at CB West: Following a pre-season team picnic, attended by players and coaches, senior team members engaged sophomore players in a series of initiation rituals. One of the rituals included escorting the player into the shower, towel over head, for a form of “waterboarding.” Another ritual was a “groin punch” — a senior allegedly struck a sophomore in his privates — as made popular on the Comedy Central Show Tosh.O.
These allegations somehow surfaced EIGHT weeks into the season and the district’s superintendent shut down the football program for the rest of the year.
Only the people involved know what really happened. On Tuesday night at a school board meeting, coaches and most parents of the players claimed administrators rushed to judgment and overreacted by shutting down the program. They said that the incidents could have been isolated and the offending athletes punished, rather than an entire team, many of whom played no part in the caper. They said that administrators succumbed to the shrapnel that scattered from a recent hazing scandal in Sayreville, NJ, one that involved sexual allegations.
I’ve got my own questions.
By all accounts, the head coach at Central Bucks West, Brian Hensel, is a good man, and so are his assistants. But I have a hard time believing that these coaches didn’t find out about the incidents until they were made public just a short time ago.
It is the year 2014 and a decidedly more sensitive and politically correct world. That’s actually a good thing. It makes us grow and evolve. The mother of a sophomore player hears that her son got punched in the testicles; she’s going to call the principal. And if the principal doesn’t act, he becomes a barbarian who’s soon going to lose his job.
Then there’s the common sense part of this. I heard a radio commentator the other day say that “some hazing is good.” Really? How? Maybe rituals such as underclassmen carrying water buckets or upperclassmen’s shoulder pads to the field don’t cause much harm. But if you give a kid ANY license to bully, he’s going to take that as far as he can. Strapping a kid to a chair and shaving his head. Is that good? Taping a kid to a goal post and throwing footballs at him. That okay? Hazing doesn’t create bonding. It creates a caste system, with one group exerting its superiority over another. It creates discomfort and mistrust.
You know what team bonding is? It’s when sophomores show that they are good enough to make the team through competition on the field. If a younger kid plays well enough, competes hard enough, against players who are older, more experienced and more naturally physical because of their age, then he should have already won trust. And he’s entitled to respect. He doesn’t need a shaved head, or a waterboarding or a punch in the groin.
The scandal at Central Bucks West High should teach all high school coaches to deliver this message when they first meet their team: There will be NO hazing whatsoever on this team. We grow together through competition. And that should be enough.
It’s 2014. How about we break the cycle?