Many teens mistakenly believe they must earn their spot on the team and prove themselves worthy of the jersey by participating in hazing. What they view as a bonding activity to make the team more close-knit is often the opposite.
“Instead of the intended team building, hazing creates an environment where dignity and respect are missing,” said Dr. Allyson Weldon, an Akron Children’s pediatric psychologist who also specializes in sports psychology.
Hazing activities are often annual traditions, which means that the people doing the hazing were also victims of it and are continuing to pass down the “tradition.”
“Many instances of hazing go unreported, because for many teens it’s merely part of the process of being accepted into a group,” said Dr. Weldon.
Forms of hazing
- Requiring someone to drink large amounts of alcohol within a short timeframe.
- Consuming spicy foods or other substances to cause gastrointestinal distress or other physical harm.
- Sleep deprivation.
- Punching or paddling.
- Performing humiliating activities like running around blindfolded, naked, in silly costumes or dressing as the opposite gender and going in public places.
- Requiring someone to be in extremely cold or hot temperatures without proper attire.
- Being asked to vandalize property.
Dr. Weldon said while some states have proposed or passed laws to prevent hazing, teams can develop their own policies to deter it. Some ideas include:
- Zero-tolerance. The consequences for breaking the policy should be written in clear and simple language. Have players sign a code of conduct to ensure everyone understands the rules.
- Educate players about hazing during team meetings and practices.
- Consistently communicate what hazing is and the harm it does to the team. This includes highlighting specific examples to educate players on what is acceptable behavior.
- Establish guidelines for proper initiation practices. This includes promoting alternatives to hazing, like movie nights, camping trips and team dinners.
- Encourage students to report hazing
- When someone reports hazing, protect their identity to deter retribution or set up a way for athletes to report hazing anonymously.
Dr. Weldon said teens often confuse what they believe to be an acceptable initiation ritual with hazing.
“High schoolers often aren’t aware that what they are doing could be considered hazing,” said Dr. Weldon. “Setting clear guidelines and examples is extremely helpful to allow them to see that what they are doing is wrong and provide them with appropriate alternatives.”
Include players in the process of defining rules as a team-based initiative. This can inspire them to become anti-hazing champions. Additionally, by appointing positive-minded, energetic team leaders, sports teams can guard against hazing.
“Create a mentor system where a senior member of the team is paired with a newcomer in order to help forge strong team relationships,” said Dr. Weldon.
Since hazing takes on a spectrum of behaviors from intimidation to harassment to violence some people think anything that doesn’t involve physical abuse or violence is “tolerable.”
“This mentality isn’t OK, and it perpetuates the problem,” said Dr. Weldon. “All forms of hazing have greater risk for psychological difficulties which can lead to poor academic performance, low self-esteem, self-isolation, anxiety, depression, a sense of helplessness and suicide.”
Signs for parents to watch for that could be a result of hazing:
- Unexplained withdrawal in team meetings or group activities.
- Lack of energy in performing daily activities.
- Exhaustion and weight loss.
- Decreased interactions/communication with peers, teammates and family.
- Drastic behavioral changes, including a desire to quit the team.
Tips for teens
- If it doesn’t feel right or you see something happening to someone else, say something.
- If you are the one experiencing it, tell someone.
- Just because everyone else is doing it, or the “cool” upperclassmen are telling you to do it, doesn’t mean it’s OK.
For more resources, reach out to a member of the behavioral health team at Akron Children’s.