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Who Is to Blame for the Wilson High School Mess? Start with Bud Selig and the MLB Players Association

By Hank Nuwer
In the shameful days before civil rights legislation, black Americans were forced to the back of the bus.
Somehow, someway, the whites on board considered themselves persons of higher status and power when blacks came with bowed heads past them.
It all comes down to perception.
One group forces another group to do something.
The other group does it. Suffering in silence—usually.
The dominant group doesn’t see itself as shameful, seedy, despicable.
The group enduring such treatment goes along—what can you do?—until one or more brave souls revolt.
The first to revolt either get crushed. Or they get accorded hero and even legend status like Rosa Parks.

The second happens when society finally awakens. At long last it sees what all along was in front of its eyes.
Society shakes its collective finger at the passengers up front, the driver, the bus company and the city or region where such outrages took place.
The shameful practice ends.
Today, people still get forced to the back of buses.
In high school athletics, callow 13- and 14-year old newcomers to the team occasionally get summoned to the rear of the craft by older members of the team who themselves once were 13- and 14-year old rookie players.
Who knows exactly why and where it started? Do you know why and when the demeaning “tradition” of giving smacks on the bottom for birthdays began in some kindergarten or elementary school long ago and far away?

Some coaches I’ve interviewed theorize in started in wrestling, a variation of a questionable tactic used to put one’s opponent off his concentration. No one really knows.
I do know coaches were arrested, tried and found not guilty for such shameful actions of their baseball players in Nogales, Arizona, in 1982. That’s the first I could find, and I have been writing about hazing since 1978. (If you know of an older verifiable case, share the knowledge, please).
So we have a trend that goes back about a quarter century. We have a trend (see https://www.hanknuwer.com/blog) that has resulted in many such outrages being reported or litigated the last five years especially.
Like the birthday bashing, the actions apparently are usually demeaning—not criminal. Some smacks on the bottom, maybe a wedgie, maybe some depantsing.
You see the progression there? Right up to that point we have a situation where coaches and schools can step in to punish the situation with parental or community support.

It is wrong, not yet criminal.
Yet even here the non-criminal hazing often goes unpunished. Why? The coaches who failed to take a seat in back of the bus either did not want to know or accepted the tradition themselves.
So the progression quickly increased nationwide from stupid initiations to shameful and demeaning sexual assault and even criminal penetration with a straw, a pencil, fingers, whatever was handy. Worse, whatever was brought to the bus or camp with full premeditation.

And these same acts can and have reached another brutal level in high school locker rooms and shower stalls and cabins or dorm rooms in off-season sports camps all over the country. These acts have included pine cones, broom handles, utensils.
Let us now examine the civil rights comparison.
Today you have a few brave parents or the victims themselves shaking their fists at the perpetrators and the coaches in the front of the bus.
These victims, allegedly in some cases on trial, absolutely in some cases now adjudicated, have been anally penetrated, had fecal material spread across their faces, have had buttocks or testicles draped over their faces, or have touched the genitals of one or more senior players.
If any of these acts occurred male to female in a parked car on a date, the unwilling victim would have full societal backing.

The perpetrator would serve time, accept sexual offender status, and would be branded with the stigma of sex offender for others in his community to recognize all his years.

The victim would get counseling and support and the knowledge that the perpetrator received no free pass to violate another’s space and dignity and body.
Sometimes these protesting parents and victims have the support of coaches, schools, school boards, local prosecutors and their communities. Sometimes the victims and their families were pariahs—are pariahs still. They got no respect, no support.
What’s the difference? The practice occurs far less than the segregation abuses of America’s pre-civil rights era.
What’s the same? On male high schools sports teams across the country, and in a minuscule number of female cheerleader/pom pom squads, the practice of hazing rookies continues.
Who IS to blame?
You can start with professional football, baseball, and hockey where non-sexual but demeaning initiations have become public spectacles documented and celebrated by some ignorant sportswriters and a grinning mass audience.

Baseball, the same national sport that long overlooked civil rights violations, steroid abuse, and drug abuse, is not surprisingly one of the biggest offenders.
And Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, in office officially since 1998 and in an acting capacity since 1992, has never been denounced for his absolute cowardice and despicable silence — until now. Bud Selig bears some responsibility for every shamed and demeaned youngster abused in a hazing.
As do the commissioners and owners associated with other major league sports where rookies get tied to goalposts with impunity, get doused with unpleasant substances, or get their heads forcibly shaved.

As does the MLB Players Association. Ditto the corresponding associations in other pro sports.
They’ve made hazing, a shameful and cowardly act, into something glorious—a sports tradition.
So now I am asking for the outcry to start at the top. Against the man at the wheel, as it were.

For every parent who has a boy who hopes to play high school sports to stand up to the Bud Seligs of the world and say, “Enough.”
You failed the test of leadership when it came to detecting and halting steroids in major league baseball.
You have not done a thing to stop open and shameful hazing in major league baseball.
You have fined no one. You have suspended no one.
You have turned your head so far around on this issue that your tie is now resting on your spineless backbone.
Yes, the high school baseball players now in court in Western New York may get a misdemeanor or even felony if convicted. Such punishment was meted out last week to an Ohio high school perpetrator in a sexual hazing.
Possibly even their coaches may get a conviction. Though similar cases in Texas (football), New Jersey (Greek administrators) and Arizona (baseball) resulted either in charges dropped or not guilty verdicts.

Still, the stigma remains. And some coaches (a relatively small number notwithstanding) have lost or resigned their positions without being charged—a severe penalty for men who love kids and sports as much as many undoubtedly do.
So now the finger of an outraged society is –or should be — squarely pointed at Bud Selig.
Major League Baseball is in full swing.
Sooner or later the New York Yankees or the Minnesota Twins or what have you will force a player to wear a dress—making it clear they consider being a woman to be less than a man—or a goofy costume.
And thanks to the Internet I’m here to say that every parent anywhere who has a child in organized sports ought to paint a bullseye on Bud Selig’s back.
Selig needs to draw attention to the national shame hazing has become by outlawing hazing by those who are role models to our nation’s youth.
Bud Selig failed miserably when it came to stopping steroid use.
Bud Selig is equally impotent when it comes to stopping hazing.
What about you? You’re either on the bus or off the bus when it comes to this issue.
Do it for the very next boy now trembling in his seat who hears the shouts and guffaws in the back of the bus and knows his time of shame has come.
Do it because civil rights changes began occurring after major league baseball recognized its shameful past and allowed a black man to play the “national” game.
Do it because baseball and Bud Selig won’t do a thing unless public opinion forces them to pull the bus over to the side of the road.
Hazing in high school sports cannot begin to end until hazing in professional sports ends.

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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