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Hazing: Heinous or harmless?

by Archives October 12, 2005

This is the question that’s being asked over and over in the wake of the hazing scandal that has engulfed the McGill Redmen football team. Since the August 27 incident in which an 18-year-old rookie claims he was sexually assaulted while his teammates looked on and cheered, the media has been in a feeding frenzy over the allegations. Six players received suspensions, the team has gone 1-4, and three of those losses were blowouts.

No one doubts that hazing scandals are bad for sports teams, but what about hazing itself? The reactions in the press have ranged from outrage to indifference, but the debate has been centered on this one incident. In order to judge whether hazing is appropriate under any circumstances, it’s necessary to understand what hazing is and why people do it.

First of all, hazing is consensual. Even in this case, no one is claiming that rookies were forced or even tricked into participating. They may not have known exactly what was in store for them, but they showed up that evening knowing they were going to be hazed.

Furthermore, hazing is not something done to an enemy, or something designed to drive a person away. It’s done to players who are expected to remain for the whole year and to become an ever-larger part of the team. After being hazed, the players need to be able to trust and cooperate with one another on and off the field in order to win games.

The rationale behind hazing is that it’s a right of passage, a way for young players to earn their place on the team. Throughout history it has been used as an initiation ritual and means of bonding by the military, sports teams and other high-stress groups that rely on absolute trust in their comrades. Only members of these groups are qualified to judge whether or not hazing is worthwhile and effective.

The people burning with righteous indignation at the continued practice of hazing on campuses might be shocked to know what else goes on there. Large groups of young men join together weekly to pound one another into the turf for no discernable purpose. This barbaric practice results in many cuts, concussions, bruises and broken bones with many individuals requiring hospitalization afterwards. If hazing is bad, how much worse is this?

What differentiates football from gang violence are consent and restraint, the same things that separate hazing from assault. Those outraged by hazing ought to be able to see that line. Their inability to do so says more about their own ignorance and squeamishness than it does about the athletes, who walk that line weekly.

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