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Flashback to 1999: what did Sports Illustrated say about hazing back then?

Here is my 1999 commentary in NCAA News:

Letter to the Editor — Magazine’s hazing treatment raises concern

The following is in response to an article in the September 13 issue of Sports Illustrated regarding hazing in athletics.

As a national advisor on Alfred University’s “Initiation Rites and Athletics: A National Survey of NCAA Sports Teams,” I believe that Richard Hoffer’s “Praising Hazing” essay in Sports Illustrated was deceptive, dishonest and potentially destructive.

It was deceptive because Hoffer labeled as hazing certain team-building activities (such as rookies carrying balls) that the Alfred survey had ruled out of the definition of hazing. He mocked and dismissed what the survey had dismissed — all for cheap laughs.

It also was deceptive because Hoffer gave as a bad example of hazing the taping of Cleveland Browns rookies to the goalpost. His column implied that pro players have the common sense to know when not to let things get out of hand.

Yet, sports fans know better. Witness the New Orleans Saints’ braining of rookies in a 1998 gantlet or the New York Mets’ loss of a player’s services in a 1999 initiation squabble.

Hoffer warns that high-school and college hazing activities ought to be forbidden, but he ignores the fact that younger, amateur athletes emulate the hazing they witness in pro sports. Plus, being immature, they take things to a dangerous extreme.

It would have been journalistically ethical for SI to run a rebuttal column mentioning the reports of high-school hazing-related sodomies/sexual attacks in Massachusetts, Texas, California, Washington, Pennsylvania and Canada as a counterpoint to Hoffer’s smirky column.

I also cry foul that Hoffer ignored the scary over-ingestion of alcohol during hazings at the University of Michigan (hockey), State University College at Potsdam (women’s lacrosse), and, yes, tiny Division III Alfred University, which (the writer failed to mention) did the survey in the first place because the school’s football team experienced initiation-related alcohol problems during the 1998 season (and suffered the 1978 death of a fraternity pledge who was hazed, in part, by varsity lacrosse players).

Finally, Hoffer’s column trivializes the deaths of Nick Haben (Western Illinois University lacrosse club) and John Davies (a University of Nevada football player who died in an alcohol-related hazing by a sub-rosa club of jocks).

The Sports Illustrated article trivializes the problems with alcohol specifically covered in the survey.

I find that destructive.

Hank Nuwer

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. 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 new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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