Hazing News

Quiet too long: NCAA reps need to address the athletic hazing issue: Opinion by moderator Hank Nuwer

Link to the original NCAA News article

Opinion Guest Column
Reprinted with Permission of author from Oct. 20 NCAA News

Why NCAA Faculty Reps Should Loudly Ban Hazing: A Friendly Nudge

By Hank Nuwer, Franklin College and Indiana University School of Journalism (IUPUI)

Thanks to the NCAA and Alfred University in 1999, the public and educators such as myself who write about hazing have a clearer idea of how prevalent hazing is in the culture of student athletes. Nearly 80 percent of all athletes admitted submitting to some sort of initiation ritual, and numerous athletes said that alcohol, nudity, sexual simulation, hitting, and even improper sexual touching were part of their rookie experience.

The term “initiation,” of course, was the euphemism that was used far more often than the term “hazing,” but that study gave a clear definition of hazing. To wit], hazing is “any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of [athletes] to join a group, regardless of [their] willingness to participate.”

That study was groundbreaking, and it has had an impact. Long resistant to any survey that revealed the extent to which fraternities and sororities in their midst, national Greek organizations now have permitted a University of Maine professor to conduct a survey similar to the NCAA’s to assess how problematic hazing is in Greek groups. The only way to effectively combat a problem is to know how big or small that problem is. All else is unacceptable speculation and guesswork.

Moreover, the Greek world, under the direction of such educational entities as the Association Of Fraternity Advisers, has taken the unprecedented step of organizing a task force composed of its most senior members to brainstorm ways to end the hazing activities that have seen at least one death (often many deaths) every year from 1970 to 2004.

And, on November 9, the AFA and partner groups sponsored a National Hazing Prevention Symposium at Purdue University. Invited participants included Mary Wilfert of the NCAA and Elliott Hopkins of the National Federation of State High School Associations. In effect, what we had was the first attempt for fraternal groups to partner with athletic groups, antihazing activist groups, educators and hazing researchers to see if there is common ground to attack hazing’s more lethal practices in an attempt to end the degradation, abuse, and occasional carnage.

I am, at this time, asking NCAA faculty representatives to do three things, and I am asking this as a faculty member in the spirit of collegiality. You’ve got a split infinitive in the first part of this sentence.

The first is to find a way to authorize a follow-up study to the 1999 NCAA study to give the public a comparative study to let hazing researchers know whether hazing is on the rise, decline, or has stabilized. The immediate pressing need for such a study is for researchers and the public to gain insight into the 70 or more incidents of sexual hazing allegations and/or convictions that have tarnished high school athletics since 1995. (College sexual incidents have been far less numerous, but still problematic due to their traumatic effect on victims).

The second is for faculty athletic reps to find a way to authorize the NCAA to act in the best interests of collegiate education by launching anti-hazing educational programs on a national scale.

Such a campaign would include 15 or 30-second public announcements by prominent NCAA coaches and athletes that send the message that hazing is all about abuse, not discipline. In the 1920s, deaths caused by freshman-sophomore physical hazing activities were the most common form of hazing death. At that time, the voices of prominent college athletes such as Branch McCracken (later Indiana basketball coach) made it clear that hazing was wrong and cowardly. Following the 1920s, only one freshman-sophomore death ever happened again.

Public announcements by high-status athletes would not only be heard by other collegiate athletes and coaches, but also by Greeks and high-school athletes who might heed such a clarion call for an end to hazing abuses. Such a message certainly is absent in professional sports where, reinforced by sensational media coverage, non-criminal but silly hazing initiations are perceived by the public to be the norm, if not actually the reality. (No survey of professional athletes has ever been attempted, of course).

The third is for a collective statement by NCAA faculty representatives that hazing is at best unethical, and at its worst, criminal or potentially malicious—particularly when alcohol is consumed during initiations. The alternative to hazing, recommended by the NCAA-Alfred study in 1999, is that each school find welcoming and positive ways to bring first-year players into the fold. Such schools as the University of Michigan now incorporate anti-hazing educational programming into larger educational programming aimed at team captains.

What’s NCAA faculty reps need offer now is not only guidance but action. Hazing policies alone won’t end the problem. What’s needed is a collective societal push to say that hazing has no place in our schools, and by extension, in our sports programs.

What I would hate to see happen is another scenario: that a highly regarded male or female athlete in high-profile program will die “accidentally” in an initiation. As a cautionary red flag, let us recall that in October 2004, two Sandwich High School (Mass.) football players are facing felony charges after a rookie teammate lost his spleen in a hazing. Under the intense media pressure now facing the University of Oklahoma and University of Colorado after alcohol-related pledging-related deaths, the NCAA will be forced to respond to public and media pressures by banning hazing.

That scenario need not take place.

The NCAA has enough power and status to lend its collective faculty voices to back its individual member institutions and fraternal groups now partnering to end hazing.

Let us keep three past incidents in mind.

When University of Vermont hockey players clutched each other’s genitals and drank beer their teammates had dipped testicles into, the blame focused on UVM’s president and arguably was a contributing factor to her departure. When Minnesota-Duluth rookie rugby player Ken Christiansen died, literally dead drunk, after falling into a creek en route home, the buck of blame stopped with three officers of the rugby club there. When the University of Oklahoma female soccer team, in the presence of a coach according to court documents, required a player allegedly and graphically to simulate oral sex, the matter wound up in the courts.

But sooner or later, the public and media almost certainly will eventually decide, should an egregious hazing incident or high-profile hazing death occur, that blame should settle on the NCAA because a criminal or willful act occurred on the NCAA’s watch. All it will take is the hardly unlikely spectacle one vocal outraged and grieving parent to ask the media to assess what NCAA faculty representatives have actually done to prevent hazing for the NCAA’s lack of a truly comprehensive anti-hazing risk management to become abundantly clear.

Don’t believe it? Eventually, military hazing ended up square on the gold-barred shoulders of the Pentagon’s brass. Eventually, scores of deaths in individual fraternities ended up with the governing National Interfraternity Conference (NFC) head facing hard, hard questions from microphone-bearing national reporters from all the evening news programs.

Right now, absolutely no media or public pressure is on the NCAA.

The right thing can be done quietly and with the satisfaction of all faculty reps knowing that they’ve done so out of a sense of sportsmanship and fair play and a concern for student-athletes, not because of outside pressures.

In the NCAA’s Mary Wilfert, you have a dedicated professional who works hard to educate herself on such matters as hazing research. In your 1999 study, you have contributed immeasurably to hazing research.

But you can do more, honorable Faculty Reps.

In my opinion, you MUST do more.

Athletic hazing can end. The buck, and abuse, can stop with your help.

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. 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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