Could I Be Hazing? A Definition and Positive Initiation Ideas

Sarah Carson
carsonsa@jmu.edu
James Madison University

Is it wrong to want to uphold your team’s longstanding team traditions? Is it bad to want to develop team unity? Is it terrible to want your new teammates to grow an understanding of what it means to be a member of your squad? The answer to all of these questions is ‘of course not.’

Where teams can go astray is when they use hazing as a way to initiate new members into their group. Instead of achieving the objectives listed above, hazing can often lead to outcomes that range from a divided team, to trouble with the school and legal system, to serious injury and death.

Luckily, there are many other activities you can do to bring new members into your team and develop a sense of camaraderie and pride. Plus, establishing these more positive team traditions are more likely to lead to benefits both on and off the field.

How Do I Know It Is Hazing?
Hazing is described as:

…any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate (Hoover & Pollard, 1999, p. 4)

So, the key components of hazing are:

  • it is an activity that inducts new members into a group or team
  • it makes new group members feel embarrassed, in danger or harmed
  • it is still considered hazing, even if a new group member fully participates

Many well-meaning upper-classmen involved in hazing incidents judge whether an activity is hazing based on their own definitions or feelings about an initiation. Although you may consider dressing up in a costume and singing your fight song in the school cafeteria to be fun, it is more important for you to think about how your new teammates perceive the event. And while you may have taken pride in sporting your new shaved head as a rookie, one of your new teammates may consider this initiation practice highly embarrassing and degrading.

Some other activities that can be considered hazing are:

  • being yelled or cursed at
  • getting a team tattoo or piercing
  • being a personal servant to an upperclassman
  • sleep, food or hygiene deprivation
  • eating/drinking disgusting foods (Hoover & Pollard, 1999)

Another common misunderstanding is that hazing new team members is okay if the rookies agree to participate. In reality, an act is still considered hazing even if a person is not physically forced to cooperate. Rookies may participate even when they are scared and in a great deal of pain because they:

  • do not want to disappoint or anger their teammates
  • want to prove their worth to the team, even if it brings them harm
  • are afraid the hazing may get worse if they resist
  • believe that resisting could get them kicked off the team
  • do not realize they have a choice (Allan & Madden, 2008)

Sometimes it is clear that an activity is considered hazing, but athletes think it is okay to carry them out on their teams because they went through the experience when they were rookies (Edelman, 2004). This ‘survivor mentality’ not only perpetuates harmful hazing practices, but can also escalate the severity of the hazing if the hazers feel they must out-do the initiation rites of previous years.

Why Not Haze?
If hazing has been a tradition on your team it can be difficult to stop, but it is important to understand that it can have some very serious consequences. First, hazing can lead to serious physical (e.g., broken bones and alcohol poisoning) and psychological (e.g., suicidal thoughts) harm. Many of these negative results come about accidentally, so it is important to avoid potentially risky situations altogether.

Other considerations are:

  • hazing can divide a team - hazing has been linked to lower levels of team unity instead of the increased closeness it is meant to create (Van Raalte, Cornelius, Linder & Britton, 2007)
    • e.g., some athletes who have been hazed have reported anger and wanting revenge, quitting a team, or transferring to a different school
  • 44 states have anti-hazing laws – hazing may result in suspension or dismissal from one’s team/school, but may also be considered a felony and lead to a fine or imprisonment (www.stophazing.org)

What Are Some Alternatives?
Fortunately, you have lots to choose from when considering positive traditions you could start on your teams that establish team roles, strengthen unity and pride, and help new members appreciate what it means to be a member of your team. We suggest you consider some of the following activities to do what hazing cannot:

  • have an event (e.g., dinner, scavenger hunt, team trivia) where teammates get to know each other and the team’s history
  • pass a symbolic team ‘torch’ to new members (e.g., ball, scrapbook, etc.)
  • have an upper-under-classmen buddy program
  • plan a team community service project or team enhancement project (e.g., beautify our field)
  • have a team pride day where all members participate
  • plan an event with another team and their new members (e.g., dinner or sport contest)
  • develop a team mission that all members contribute to and sign

An important lesson can be learned from the men’s volleyball team at the University of St. Thomas who were suspended for a season due to hazing that occurred at a party that did not seem out of the ordinary on the night of October 23rd, 2010. Tragically, instead of bringing the team closer together, the combination of taunting and degrading the rookies and excessive drinking lost this team more than the privilege to play the sport they love. It also lost them one of their new teammates. All in all, sport should be about the thrill of competition, pride in developing and executing your skills, and the joy of team camaraderie. In order to help your team live out these goals to the fullest, bonding your team is an essential step, and how you choose to build this bond is key. Make a smart and informed choice, make a choice that unites all teammates, and choose to eliminate hazing.

References:
Allan, E.J. & Madden, M. (2008, March 11). Hazing in view: College students at risk.
            Initial findings from the national study of student hazing. Retrieved from
            http://www.hazingstudy.org/publications/hazing_in_view_web.pdf

Edelman, M. (2004). Addressing the high school hazing problem: Why lawmakers need
            to impose a duty to act on schools. Pace Law Review, 25(1), 15-47.

Hoover, N. & Pollard, N. (1999, August 30). Initiation rites and athletics: A national
            survey of NCAA sports teams. Retrieved from
            http://www.alfred.edu/sports_hazing/docs/hazing.pdf

Van Raalte, J.L., Cornelius, A.E., Linder, D.E. & Britton, B.W. (2007). The relationship
            between hazing and team cohesion. Journal of Sport Behavior, 30(4), 491-507.

Stophazing.org (2010). State anti-hazing laws. Retrieved from
            http://www.stophazing.org/laws.html.

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