MURPH'S PLACE: Hazing rears its ugly head again

April 8, 2015

Like racial prejudice and cancer, hazing is something that just won't go away.

It reared its ugly head this season in Redlands when a softball coach at Citrus Valley High had new players lick dirt from the field, with the incident being captured on camera.

Players were told "Everybody has do it" according to the Redlands Daily Facts newspaper. One girl was shown on video with her tongue caked in dirt.

This incident, though considerably less severe than some examples of hazing, should not be passed off as a "team-bonding" exercise as some have tried to portray it. It fits under the definition of hazing as listed on the website www.stophazing.com:

Hazing is "Any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them, regardless of a person's willingness to participate."

Said Emily Pualwan, the executive director of Hazingprevention.org: "It has been reported that high school softball players were being told to lick dirt as part of an initiation ritual, and a video posted to social media shows what appears to be the team doing that. While we cannot comment on the particulars of what actually happened in this case, or the context within which it happened, we can say that if players are required to lick dirt in order to be a member of a team or join a team that would clearly fall within our definition of hazing."

Hazing is a serious problem. Statistics show that more than half of college students in clubs, teams and organizations experience it.

Among the most frequently reported hazing behaviors, 26 percent participate in a drinking game, 12 percent associate with specific people and not others, 12 percent drink a large amount of alcohol to the point of getting sick or passing out, 11 percent are deprived of sleep and 10 percent are screamed, yelled or cursed at by other members.

Sometimes the outcome is tragic. In Albany, N.Y. last month it was learned a college sophomore who died of excessive alcohol consumption drank a 60-ounce bottle of vodka during the hazing of pledges at an unsanctioned fraternity, the Associated Press reported. Twenty-four students were sanctioned by the University of Albany and two were expelled. The investigation is ongoing.

In 25 percent of hazing cases -- such as at Citrus Valley High -- students believed coaches and/or advisers were aware of the activities.

This was also the case locally in 2014 at Woodside High when two varsity boys' basketball coaches were fired after a hazing incident involving their players, who allegedly taped two teammates to chairs, according to Yahoo Sports.

On a trip to the Orestimba Holiday Tournament in Newman, Woodside players reportedly jumped and beat the two boys, taped their mouths shut and attached them to chairs, making one watch Spanish-language TV and putting lipstick on the other.

Brilliant. Not a lot of team-bonding going on there.

The head coach was allegedly aware of the hazing and may have seen some of it and the junior varsity coach was allegedly aware of it as well.

Woodside has taken steps to see that nothing of this sort happens again. The Positive Coaching Alliance was brought in to share its wisdom. And new athletic director Chuck Velschow holds pre-season sportsmanship meetings to make sure team-bonding activities and other practices are of a positive nature.

"I had a good experience with the Positive Coaching Alliance through my daughter's youth soccer team," said Velschow, a former Serra High football player. "I thought it was beneficial. The athletes also know that if something is wrong they can talk to me and that my door is always open."

The Woodside hazing incident was worse than in Redlands and resulted in a civil lawsuit against the Sequoia Union High School District that was settled out of court. There have also been considerably more egregious examples of hazing throughout the United States over the years, leading to the origination of such websites such as stophazing.org and hazingprevention.org.

One of the more alarming examples emanated in 2000 from the windswept desert town of Yucca Valley in Southern California. After a heavily scrutinized investigation, one Yucca Valley High football player was found not guilty by the courts, but five others settled for a lesser sexual battery charge by admitting involvement in an incident in which a younger player was penetrated by an object.

That's sick. Sadistic. Unforgivable.

So, yes, the examples vary from the lesser in Redlands to the horrific, as in Yucca Valley. Concerning here is that minors who are on an athletic team or in a marching band or a cheerleading squad are not always able to distinguish between minor indiscretions and severe. They don't necessarily get the difference between making someone stand up and sing the school fight song while others titter and subjecting someone to humiliating or even illegal forms of abuse.

As adults, people in authority have to recognize that any such activity that causes discomfort, embarrassment or trauma to individuals is over the line. Advocating such practices is wrong and makes one subject to removal, as more than a few folks have learned over the years.

John Murphy is the Web Content Manager of Prep2Prep. He may be reached at jmurphy@prep2prep.com. Follow him @PrepCat

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