Hazing News

A sobering essay on sexual hazing in high school sports

This was written by Conlan Campbell, 18, for the St. Olaf student newspaper.



High school freshmen, as a general group, are impressionable. Because of their malleable minds, it is not a huge leap to assume these students, who are fourteen or fifteen years old, are taking in their environment as they formulate a paradigm through which to view the broader world. This process is something lauded in terms of high school sports: kids are offered a small, tight-knit community to build confidence and understand how to operate in a group. The issue in Sayreville is that the football team is not a safe place for freshmen to formulate worldviews. It is where the older and more powerful are free to bully and subjugate their younger teammates, while the community looks on with ambivalence, or even worse, contempt.

Reports of hazing among the freshmen on the Sayreville football team include being held down while upperclassmen violently attack them, and being subjected to a very disconcerting, possibly sexually-charged “fondling,” where individuals were purportedly penetrated through pants with a finger. A system that allows this kind of treatment is broken. Compounding the issue, the students being bullied are seemingly encouraged to justify the beatings and the “ass-taking,” as the students call it. Investigators had difficulty ascertaining an accurate conception of events because accounts were skewed among different students. Many who experienced the hazing were willing to say that it was just a joke, or that the upperclassmen were simply messing around, while few were willing to state that they had a problem with it. These results aren’t hard to believe with the controversy regarding the case in the surrounding community and with the cancellation of football for the year, for which the freshmen are being blamed.

This case illuminates the public response to this clearly damaged football-playing subgroup. The public only sees the team when it wins games. The high schoolers enjoy seeing their points rack up and putting a little statue into a case, or perhaps hanging a banner on the wall of the gym. When they meet students from other schools, they can compare their home teams, and having the better record is a little bit exciting. Maybe these students, their families and others in the community start to become prideful and like to go cheer on the team with a two-dollar hot chocolate in hand. Then, once football is part of the local identity, the 15-year-olds joining the team aren’t just impressionable teenagers; they are a deciding factor as to whether all the football players get to proudly parade around the homecoming assembly instead of just sitting in the bleachers.

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By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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