A.D.ministration: Hazing continues to be a problem
With all the articles, position statements and presentations that have been produced over the years, one might think that hazing has been thoroughly addressed. For a long time, we heard very little about it.
This fall, however, high school football hazing and bullying incidents in two states brought the issue to light again. Clearly, more work needs to be done.In both cases, hazing took place in areas generally thought of as very good schools and communities. They had excellent academic reputations, committed faculty, involved parents and both football programs won numerous championships. The schools were successful by several standards, but hazing and bullying still occurred.
Several questions and concerns have surfaced, and they need to be addressed. If this can occur at these two schools, one cannot and should not assume that everything is OK in their setting. Hazing and bullying can occur anywhere without proper proactive efforts, reporting procedures and a commitment to prevent these inappropriate behaviors. Looking at the questions and concerns may be a good place to start in order to find possible solutions.
A parent at one of the schools was interviewed after the season was cancelled. She said, “No one actually got hurt. And we are penalizing all of the players on the team for the actions of a few.” Separately, one administrator said that hazing was unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. However, he also said “there were no physical injuries.”
While hazing may or may not involve physical harm, it would be wrong to assume that nobody was injured. In terms of healing, physical injuries may be easier to deal with. Hazing or bullying may involve emotional and mental issues that last for years.
The notion that not all of the players were involved also needs to be addressed. In addition to the athletes responsible for the hazing or bullying, there had to be several others who were aware that it occurred or saw it happen. At one of the schools, the administrator clarified that the failure of other players to report the acts made them complicit. This is a key point. Reporting the initial hazing incident could have prevented further episodes.
Since the hazing took place in the locker room, it’s clear that proper supervision was likely nonexistent. Supervision is a requirement for all coaches before, during and after practice sessions and games. With proper supervision, hazing and bullying should never occur on school property or at school sanctioned events and activities.
In light of these concerns, changes may need to be made in your setting to prevent hazing and bullying. The following are some concrete suggestions that can help.
1. Reinforce coach expectations.
Detail all supervision requirements for your coaches. These procedures need to include every situation and setting involved — locker rooms, practice sites, team bus travel, waiting for rides after practice. Think about your situation and make sure supervision responsibilities are spelled out for absolutely every scenario that may arise at your school. Student-athletes cannot be left alone.
2. Discuss at preseason meetings.
Cover supervision requirements at preseason coaches meetings, periodic email reminders and one-on-one sessions with your coaches. To prevent hazing and bullying, coaches must understand their role and expectations for all aspects of their job. During your communication and educational efforts, answer all questions and anticipate any loopholes so that there is no ambiguity.
3. Develop reporting procedures.
Create a hazing and bullying reporting process that can easily be used by student-athletes, coaches and parents without fear of reprisals. These procedures must be communicated with everyone in the athletic program. The forms also must be readily available in the athletic office, main office, in handbooks, the guidance office and posted on your website.
4. Educate parents and players.
Teach your athletes and parents that everyone has a responsibility to report incidents of hazing and bullying. Remaining quiet or staying out of it is unacceptable, just like the actual commission of these abusive acts. Athletes, coaches and parents have a role regarding the health and safety of student-athletes.
5. Enact outreach efforts.
Start a community-wide education initiative to explain what’s involved in hazing and bullying. You may need to change the culture of the school and community. It’s vital that everyone, including parents, understands that any aspect of tradition that involves hazing is unacceptable and must be eliminated.
To reach parents, use every available avenue. This should include preseason parent meetings, posted information and explanations on your website, educational links that provide additional materials or schedule a special meeting to watch the NIAAA’s hazing video. For these special meetings, invite an expert to answer questions and provide additional insight and information.
Emphasize to your coaches and parents that many states have laws and penalties governing hazing and bullying. Not only is this a moral concern, but depending upon the existence of legislation in your state, it may be a legal issue.
Athletic directors must also explain to coaches that they need to be vigilant and aware of rumors circulating about their team that may include hazing incidents. In the age of social media, Twitter and Facebook should also be used to educate those inside and outside of your program. Being proactive and heading off these problems can be a great deterrent of abuse.
Provide your coaches with ideas for team bonding alternatives that don’t include hazing. While events such as team dinners or bowling evenings can form new traditions, it’s also valuable if you can incorporate community service projects into your agenda. This way, you develop team bonding experiences and introduce the value of giving something back to benefit others.
Perhaps the two hazing incidents this fall can serve as the ultimate wakeup call for athletic administrators. Hazing and bullying have no place in education-based athletics and it’s the responsibility of everyone involved — athletes, coaches, parents, administrators — to prevent these inappropriate acts.
David Hoch, CMAA, has 16 years of experience as a high school athletic director and served for 12 years as the executive director of the Maryland State Coaches Association. In 2000, he was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association. His column, A.D.ministration, focuses on issues in athletic administration and appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine.