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By the Book

by Archives September 28, 2005

The McGill hazing incident has been blown out of proportion. There are too many problems with the accuser’s story, the main ones being no one has backed up his account and that he has backtracked on much of his story pretty much unprovoked (seemingly). The story deserved some attention, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it was as big a deal in hindsight as it seemed at first.

When the story broke, it was huge, with details coming out slowly after eight McGill football players were suspended for one game for “violating team rules.” McGill University is continuing to investigate the incident and one player remains suspended. As the story developed, however, the incident seemed to be just a scare tactic, intimidation, which is what hazing is all about. Hazing should be something that is laughed about after it happens, not something traumatic to one or more of the participants. Can’t we have team building without wrecking a person’s life with some kind of sexual assault? Let’s hope so.

After Alfred University in New York cancelled one football game, expelled a veteran player and suspended six others in 1998, they conducted a landmark study on hazing in American universities and high schools. The results were released in 1999 and are still available on the University’s web site. The most important number which came out of the survey was that 79% of athletes have been hazed. If calculated against the actual number of athletes in the United States, that number represents over 255,000 student-athletes. Of that number, 60% of responders said that they were either involved in alcohol-related hazing or unacceptable hazing (excluding alcohol). 19% said that they were involved in questionable hazing rituals while 19% also said that there were no unacceptable acts in their hazing.

This number is alarming to me. Looking at a report on ESPN’s website, there is a list of 68 alleged and confirmed incidents at the high school, college and professional levels that received media attention from 1980-2000. Most situations came to light through the police or court system. It leaves me to question how many unacceptable hazing incidents are just kept secret by rookie athletes. What would have happened if the person who reported the McGill hazing rituals had kept his mouth shut? No one would have known. But out of all the universities and high schools, only 68 incidents in 20 years? Does anyone else find this number extremely low, especially when looking at the numbers given in the Alfred University study? What can be said about the 68 people who came out and did something about what happened to them? They may have saved lives, and at the very least saved many young athletes from embarrassment and shame.

In the Alfred University survey, most coaches and athletic directors didn’t think hazing was a problem at their schools. Well, of course not. If players didn’t report anything was wrong, why would they believe something was? Would McGill University be investigating hazing if the athlete didn’t come out and report that something happened? Of course not. Why don’t universities try to stop unacceptable hazing activities before someone gets hurt or even dies instead of afterwards. A lot of good that’ll do!

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that team-building (which is the main goal of hazing) is important. I just feel that there is no point having people engage in drinking contests or sexual assault. Anyone who would put someone through that isn’t someone I’d want as a teammate. Most professional teams get their rookies to take a flight wearing women’s clothing. That is funny to everyone, something even the rookies can laugh at afterwards.

I think that for every hazing incident from here on out that goes reported, the school is just as much to blame as the athletes involved. Most of the schools have anti-hazing rules, but how can you enforce them if you don’t even know if it’s going on? The schools should investigate hazing before someone gets hurt because they owe it to the student-athletes that commit to their school to keep them safe from assault.

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