Every week I hear stories from across the country about hazing in sport contexts. The recent attention nationally around bullying, including a stand from the White House, illustrates the seriousness of these issues and that social change is necessary. Here in Minnesota a hazing incident involving a MN high school football team garnered a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, stories of hazing in high school and college sports is not uncommon. I teach a hazing unit in my Psychology of Coaching class, so I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time.
I feel it is important to educate current and future coaches, parents and athletes that hazing has no place in sports (or any context!). Here are some of the reasons why hazing should not be tolerated, punished swiftly and severely, and not minimized as harmless “teasing.” To hear me talk about hazing, you can watch an interview I did with Fox 9 News.
- Hazing is a serious issue in which psychological or physical harm is intentionally inflicted in order to gain membership to a group, and in that way it is different than teasing. The guidelines for what constitutes hazing can be found here.
- Many myths of hazing include: it is harmless, the victim agreed or consented to do it so it isn’t that big of a deal, it is tradition, it teaches respect and discipline, or it is just kids having fun…but these are just that, myths. Hazing is an act of power and control over others. One of the myths is that hazing is just “boys being boys.” If physical and psychological harm is attributed to “boys being boys” than this societal belief needs to be challenged and changed. What does this message teach young men and boys? Unfortunately this type language is used repeatedly to normalize or minimize the bad behavior of those who haze.
- Hazing is typically used as a means to achieve team membership, improve performance, teach respect or discipline, reflect a sign of tradition, and/or to facilitate team bonding, but in reality hazing events are embarrassing, degrading, can be physically and/or psychologically harmful, can cause resentment and hostility, and undermine trust, positive relationships, and team cohesion.
- It is quite common despite educational efforts to thwart the occurrence of hazing. Exact numbers are not known due to the fact most hazing goes unreported as the victims are under a veil of secrecy, don’t want to call out their peers, and face the potential of more hazing, retaliation, or losing friends. Statistics vary but between 50-80% of all students report being hazed.
- Most kids, and many adults, think hazing is normal and just accept it uncritically, but there are some questions that can be asked to help discern if it is indeed hazing.
- Am I asked to keep it a secret?
- Would I want my parents, teachers, principle or coach to know?
- Would I want this in the newspapers or on TV?
- Is there risk of injury or is it safe?
- Hazing is common enough to cause concern. Experts on hazing argue proactive, consistent, and explicit educational effort to coaches, parents, and athletes is the best preventative measure along with firm policies and strong consequences. Many coaches turn a blind eye and view it as harmless team fun, when in fact it is a serious issue.
There are far better and more positive ways to build team cohesion, mutual respect and create positive relationships among athletes than hazing rituals.