Hazing News

Upon further review: revising my opinion of Beta Theta Pi adviser Tim Bream’s actions based on available facts

From the Moderator: Here is the link to my column and an excerpt

Commentary: Penn State’s Tim Bream: Betrayed by the brotherhood

By Hank Nuwer

You may recall that Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi adviser Tim Bream was serving as a volunteer live-in adviser and was asleep in his room when pledge Timothy Piazza perished after enduring gross alcohol hazing. As an intoxicated Piazza lay dying, Betas callously refrained from phoning 911. 

Hank Nuwer is a professor with Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism.

I carefully have considered whether Bream may have been unfairly vilified by the press (including my Sept. 4 commentary). Media widely have criticized Bream for remaining in his room after allowing alcohol to be legally consumed at a so-called “party” the night of Tim’s death.  

For full disclosure, I have been in touch with both sides of the Piazza case for background. I have drawn some fact-based conclusions from documents and statements made by those testifying at a preliminary hearing, after which a trial judge dismissed felony counts against members for involuntary manslaughter.  

Some lesser charges remain on the books. Bream was never charged. 

Bream has declined comment through his counsel.  

Based on facts, this is what I have concluded: 

In line with Beta Theta Pi national guidelines for its house advisers, Bream, a PSU Beta alum, agreed to help out the chapter by overseeing housing of members and pledges. A lifelong non-drinker, he never socialized with undergrads and urged fraternity members and PSU athletes (in his dual role as athletic trainer) to drink in strict moderation.  

On the night of the fatality, all his advice was ignored. I can argue here that Bream was naïve for assuming there would be no hazing at this party, but there had been many previous parties with an alcohol permit and no injuries had occurred. 

Much media speculation followed the preliminary hearing due to tough questions posed by the lead prosecutor and attorneys defending the individual Beta members. An investigating detective made some comments about Bream that hurt the adviser’s image, but not one shred of evidence implicated Bream in any wrongdoing. In fact, the district attorney chided a defense attorney for trying to lay blame on Bream, saying such a tactic distracted attention away from the defendants.  

House video clearly shows Bream played no part in egregious conduct that led to Piazza dying. He never left his second-floor room during the proceedings. 

When Bream became aware that Piazza was dead, he urged grieving members to stay off their cell phones/social media, but no evidence suggests he ordered a cover-up. Bream went on the stand merely to establish probable cause against the defendants, not to defend himself against non-existent charges. 

Bream has expressed appropriate sympathy for the grieving Piazza parents.  

I have asked why police did not confiscate Bream’s phone. The explanation was there was no probable cause to take it. The police had all the other defendants’ phones and no texts or calls from Bream occurred that fatal night. 

On the other hand, the chapter officers had a clear duty to phone Bream and wake him as Piazza staggered, and the fact they did not do so is just so wrong.  Bream is trained to act as a first responder in cases of injury on the field,

The Beta Theta Pi brothers had a sober, trained professional one door knock away from possibly saving Tim Piazza’s life. That they failed to do so demonstrates to me that Penn State may have been dead-on right when it shifted governance from fraternity chapters to university governance.

In conclusion, since 1978 I have followed every single hazing death. I could wish that Bream had acted as the chapter policeman as many live-in advisers do, but he was merely doing a little extra service as an alum for his fraternity. It looks as if he was taken in by the aura of responsibility the chapter brethren had concocted.  

I think on my blog I have posted every major media commentary on Bream put out by other commentators. To my knowledge, I now become the only columnist trying to analyze Tim Bream’s side fully. I don’t see why he needs to vacate his main job as a university trainer. His athletes over time have said he has hung the moon for them. 

There is a lesson to be learned; any responsible adult who lives in a chapter house must be wary of covert shenanigans concocted by callow undergrads.

Tim Bream now must watch as his onetime house charges go on trial for hazing and lesser charges. While I can’t begin to process the unbelievable pain the Piazza family feels now in its loss, Bream himself must feel great pain after his colossal shafting by the brotherhood. Rather than a tarnished Lion like Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, Bream is a wounded Lion. 

No good deed goes unpunished. 

On Sept. 14, Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander announced that the sudden death of Phi Delta Theta prospective member Maxwell Raymond Gruber, 19, may be caused by alcohol-related hazing. 

And that’s how national Hazing Prevention Week started in 2017.  

Hank Nuwer is a Franklin College journalism professor and the author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” “The Hazing Reader,” “Wrongs of Passage” and many other books. 

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based 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 new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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