Sports Hazing

Mike Moffett

 by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist

Amber McLane is a Gilford teacher as well as a student in Plymouth State University’s athletic administration graduate program. I teach a “Sports and Society” course in that program and always enjoy the experience. Most of the students are already working professionals who’ve been “in the trenches,” dealing with competitive athletics and the countless issues involving sports in our culture. The class allows them to share experiences and approaches in addressing all manner of athletic administration and coaching challenges.
Amber recently submitted a thoughtful and intriguing research project on sports hazing, parts of which I’ll share here, with her permission. She cited an Alfred University study which claimed that 48% of high school students surveyed were hazed in some fashion during their educational journeys—with many sports team members particularly at risk.
In addition to the statistics, Amber included specific examples of outrageous initiation traditions.
For example, in 2015, senior girls on the varsity soccer team at New Jersey’s Lake Mountain High School, made new teammates “army crawl” through dog feces, old food and garbage on a tarp, and eat muffins baked with hot sauce as part of their team induction. Ouch!
Because of such incidents, 44 states now have anti-hazing laws.
In 2013, national attention was focused on Chelmsford (Mass.) High School’s football team, which had a preseason football camp up here in Moultonborough. Alleged hazing practices leading to injuries created unnecessary distractions, to say the least.
So what’s the deal with sports hazing and degrading initiation rites? How did they come about?
Part of the answer is that many teams want membership to mean something. Exclusivity has its appeal. If anyone can just sign up and join a team then membership doesn’t mean as much.
Navy SEAL teams have lately received a lot of attention in the news and in the popular media. Their training is necessarily brutal—both mentally and physically. War is tough business. SEAL candidates are mercilessly hazed. But they volunteered for the challenge and are well paid for their efforts. And the title of SEAL means a lot, as the shared experience creates lasting bonds. There is value to that.
But did a SEAL candidate really need to drown in a training pool last month?
I’ve pledged a fraternity and survived Marine Corps boot camp. Both experiences included numerous rites and rituals that some would find unnecessary or disturbing. Others would see the same rites and rituals as humorous and engaging. One person’s hazing is another person’s fun challenge. But for me, these rites and rituals created strong bonds that endured for decades. Properly applied, they have their place.
Amber’s project helped focus attention on avoidable abuses. We need to examine all aspects of sports training and find the best balance between stress-induced character building and degrading practices that injure people for no good reason.
Extra wind sprints for newcomers making rookie mistakes in practice? Sure.
Crawling through dog feces to make a girls’ soccer team? I don’t think so.

Sports Quiz
Boston beat Pittsburgh in the first World Series in 1903. What are the two years since then when there was no World Series? (Answer follows)

Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on June 2 include Montreal Canadien star Larry Robinson (1951) and race car driver Kyle Petty (1960).

Sportsquote
“If you don’t cheat, you look like an idiot; if you cheat and don’t get caught, you look like a hero; if you cheat and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me where I belong.” –NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip

Sportsquiz Answer
There was no World Series in 1904 or 1994. Boston repeated as American League champs in 1904, but the National League champs—the New York Giants—refused to participate in a series involving what they claimed was an inferior league. In 1994, a strike ended the baseball season in June.

Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is mimoffett@comcast.net.