When I first learned about one school board’s decision to cut an entire football season short to investigate an unspecified hazing incident, there was a lot that wasn’t entirely clear to me. I appreciated that the school district was actually taking action, but I had to wonder what it was that could be deemed so heinous that it warranted such drastic measures.
Whatever it was, I decided, it had to be pretty severe. The members of the school board had to have known they would face major backlash for this, so I doubted it was an overreaction. Turns out, it’s even worse than I thought.
The description of the hazing over at Nj.com is pretty chilling, and reading it turned my stomach, so I will go ahead and issue a trigger warning here for sexual assault:
“It would start with a howling noise from a senior football player at Sayreville War Memorial High School, and then the locker room lights were abruptly shut off.
In the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen. Then, the victim would be lifted to his feet while a finger was forced into his rectum. Sometimes, the same finger was then shoved into the freshman player’s mouth.”
These allegations come from a parent of a player on the team, and if they are true, then this is indeed criminal sexual assault, and I stand by what I originally said, that there is no place for even the appearance of tolerance of this kind of behavior. To ignore it or brush it off or even say, “Eh, we’ll figure this out later,” and allow the season to go on is to say to everyone else that the sexual assault and humiliation of another player is less important than the outcome of the athletic season. It condones it.
It’s also important to address it because, amazingly, we still live in a society that refuses to believe boys can be raped or assaulted and that casts agonizing amounts of shame onto the young men who are. Being rectally penetrated as a joke that you didn’t consent to being the punch line in is in no way a normal part of growing up as a teenage boy, and no one should be asked to accept it or to laugh it off.
As you’ll recall, the investigation into these hazing incidents has already revealed that they “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.”
Which of course leaves one question I’d want answered if it were a child of mine on this team: What about the coach? If the harassment was this entrenched in the culture of this particular team, how could the coach not have known about it? If he did, then why did it take a complaint on the part of at least one of the people he was responsible for to get this looked into?
Even with all the information that has come to light, there’s still an awful lot that needs to be answered for.