We hear a lot about "zero tolerance" when it comes to bullying these days, and despite the fact that lots of schools claim to be cracking down on the problem, there always seems to be a steady stream of heartbreaking and horrifying stories of the victims of unchecked bullying and sexual assault, mostly told too late, when the damage has been done. A lot of times these stories end in tragedy, with a victim taking their own life.
Now at least one school seems to be actually following through on its policy, and I have to say it's pretty refreshing. Sayreville War Memorial High School has canceled the rest of the football season due to the fact that police are involved in an instance of hazing and bullying. Apparently the hazing was allegedly so severe that the younger players on the team "lived in fear."
Details about the incident remain pretty hazy, but superintendent Richard Labbe hinted at the severity of the situation in a statement:
"An initial investigation into hazing allegations found 'incidents of harassment, intimidating and bullying ... that took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level and at a level in which the players knew, tolerated and in general accepted.'"
As a result, the school has forfeited the rest of the season while the investigation into the alleged incident takes place, which has turned the atmosphere pretty venomous. To put it bluntly, people are pissed. Parents and students alike are upset the season won't continue, claiming ignorance of the events and saying the punishment is too severe.
We often see that school athletes are treated differently than their peers, as was the case in Steubenville and Maryville. Anyone who wasn't athletic in high school can probably give you all kinds of firsthand accounts that echo this sentiment. It's been going on forever, and yeah, it has to stop. Zero tolerance should be zero tolerance for all kids, not just the kids who don't play football. I don't have anything against the sport, but I do think people need to understand that pervasive emotional and physical abuse is never just "kids being kids" or "part of the culture."
If the only way to get through to them is to take away their toys, then so be it. It's better by a mile than hearing about how one of their victims thought the only way out was to take their own lives.
I will buy that some players didn't know what was going on, but I don't think that's enough to excuse what's been going on. It's a serious enough allegation that the police are involved, and it apparently had "sexual overtones." Again, a team rises and falls together, and maybe in the future the players who remain will be extra vigilant about what's going on around them and refuse to allow it to be perpetuated. If your school's proud traditions include assaulting or bullying someone, then your school probably sucks.
I think what bothers me the most about this is that instead of accepting the punishment, the pushback comes from a place of "why me?" It doesn't seem to matter that there was some pretty serious hazing happening to one of their teammates, and they easily see themselves as the bigger victims.
I think Sayreville school board member John Walsh probably said it best when he said, "It's sad and it's terrible and it's heartbreaking [to cancel the season]. I get that... But it's not tragic. Tragic would be walking in front of the casket of a victim who decided he couldn't take it anymore."
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