Ball is not life: Put student safety first
Recent allegations of hazing point to serious institutional issues
It’s another week, another football scandal — and another editorial about it. Whether it’s on a national or a local level, people don’t seem to get the point: There are plenty of things (most things, to be honest) that are much more important than the sport.
Last Friday, six juveniles were taken into custody police for allegedly participating in extremely disturbing hazing rituals in the locker rooms of Sayreville War Memorial High School. A seventh turned himself into the police later that day. Prosecutors are calling the hazing sexual assault, and rightly so — according to reports, several seniors would pin a freshman’s hands and feet, lift him against a wall and then force a finger into his rectum.
So it’s no wonder that when a parent and student first came to superintendent Richard Labbe about this, he immediately canceled that night’s football game. After a weekend of further investigation and the arrest of the perpetrators, he announced that the school would forfeit the remaining games of the season until the matter is completely resolved.
But what’s possibly even more disgusting than the allegations of what can only be called assault is the response of many parents, students and community members who can’t get over the fact that the football season is cancelled. Once again, people are refusing to recognize that people’s lives, their safety and their well being will always be much more important than football ever will be. This happened with the NFL in its handling of its own internal problems with domestic abuse, but this incident on a high school level is possibly even more disturbing. These are children who are supposed to be going to school and participating in activities that foster a safe, comfortable learning environment. Where were the coaches? How did no one pick up on this before now, and why did they have to wait until a few brave victims gathered the courage to come forward to even get a clue of what was going on?
In this case at Sayreville, the incidents are alleged to have occurred between Sept. 19 and Sept. 29, but it’s unlikely that this is the first year that hazing has gone on at the school. As a senior at the high school pointed out himself, “It happens at all the schools, it’s just that it happened to leak out. Why don’t you go to the next town over where the same thing’s happening?”
That’s exactly the problem. This is an issue that runs far deeper than these four incidents at the high school. Hazing rituals aren’t as simple to deal with as just punishing the individuals who are caught — it’s a larger and much more vicious cycle that often goes unnoticed for years. Who knows if the seniors on the football team who are supposedly responsible for “digitally penetrating” freshmen on the team were hazed themselves when they were freshmen? It doesn’t excuse their behavior in any way, but instead points out the larger issue. Punishing these seven individuals is one thing, but it doesn’t come close to addressing the more complex issue at hand: the ugly and unfortunate tradition of hazing that is apparently beginning at an even younger age than the notorious hazing at fraternities and sororities on college campuses.
At Rutgers, for instance, there is a zero-tolerance policy for hazing in greek life, and this is strictly enforced by the administration. Similarly, Rutgers Athletics is very clear on its policy on hazing, and head coach Kyle Flood has made it clear several times that there is no place for it on his team (including a recent statement after the news of this incident at Sayreville became public). But on a high school level, there doesn’t seem to be an appropriate level of supervision to keep the culture of hazing out. Hazing is not exactly uncommon in high school sports teams — it just goes unnoticed most of the time. There needs to be a better system of supervision, accountability and enforcement to stamp it out as soon as possible. Hazing is something that can have serious ramifications later on, regardless of how harmless (or in this particular case, extremely harmful) it might seem.