Abuse Survives in a Haze of Mixed Messages About Teamwork

"We have a society now that sees humiliation as extremely uproarious," says Hank Nuwer, an expert on hazing. (By Dennis Cripe)
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By Preston Williams
Thursday, February 12, 2009

Never understood the purpose of hazing in high school sports. You humiliate a teammate, a guy who's supposed to trust you, a guy who might have to throw a key block for you downfield. Heck, a guy you might need to catch a ride home with sometime. And that humiliation somehow builds camaraderie?

The following season, the kid who was degraded does the same thing to somebody else. He goes from the abused to the abuser, and the shameful "tradition" continues.

There are different degrees of hazing, but with some of the more serious incidents, if a gang used the same initiation rituals, the public would view the members as animals. The soccer team at the high school? Ah, no big deal.

Most hazing incidents go unreported, but in the past decade or so, there have been news accounts of hazing-related incidents at Severna Park, Reservoir, North County, Lackey, Einstein and Centennial high schools, to name a few.

Last week, The Washington Post's Katie Carrera reported about five Thomas Stone wrestlers facing misdemeanor charges stemming from a Jan. 20 incident in which the wrestlers taped the arms and legs of a teammate to a bus seat and took pictures and teased him, according to one of the charged wrestlers, undefeated 160-pound senior Zachary Lohr.

The five wrestlers were suspended from school, and first-year coach Michael Larson has been removed as coach for the rest of the season, although he took immediate action when he realized what was taking place on the bus.

StopHazing.org defines hazing as "any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate."

In 2006, information presented at the National Conference on High School Hazing reported that one in 10 college students said they had been hazed in high school but that four in 10 reported experiencing behaviors that would be considered hazing. A 2000 study by Alfred University found that almost three-fourths of high school students who had been hazed said the experience had negative consequences.

Hank Nuwer, who has written four books about hazing, including "High School Hazing: When Rites Become Wrongs," has documented cases of hazing in sports, fraternities and sororities, the military, law enforcement and even cooking schools and choral groups.

In light of the Thomas Stone incident, we spoke with the Indiana-based Nuwer, 62, on the phone last week.

Q Why does hazing exist in high school sports? Does it satisfy some sort of innate need for a rite of passage?

A It gives students a combination of things they're looking for at that age: the need for a lark, the immersion in secrecy with their peers, a passage from liminal space where they went from not being a member of a group to becoming a member of a group, and then the fact there is a kind of . . . rite of passage associated with hazing and initiations in school that has kind of a romance to it.

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