High school to pros, there's no escaping it

Across the board, hazing is endemic, often condoned

September 17, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It happens everywhere, from high school to college to professional sports. If there is a team hierarchy -- where the older athletes exercise some form of authority or control over the newcomers -- there is likely to be some kind of initiation process.

In a national survey of NCAA athletes conducted by Alfred University, of the more than 325,000 athletes who participated in intercollegiate sports last year, more than 250,000 (about 78 percent) experienced some kind of hazing to join a college athletic team.

Of those, nearly half said they experienced their first hazing incident in high school.

Even at the professional level, it is commonplace for veteran athletes to play initiation pranks on new players. Just ask former Orioles reliever Armando Benitez, who tried to walk off the team after veteran players stole his clothing during an annual hazing ritual.

High schools

Here are some high school incidents that have made headlines: Four high school baseball players at Raoul Wallenberg High School in the San Francisco area were arrested in April after allegedly sexually assaulting younger teammates with foreign objects during a road trip to San Diego. The baseball season was canceled and the coach suspended, though he was unaware of the incident.

During a summer football camp on Staten Island, a 13-year-old boy has charged that he was stripped naked and punched in the genitals. Other students at the same camp allegedly were forced to box bare-fisted and ordered to sit in their underwear and read pornographic material.

In Lincolnshire, Ill., a group of sophomore football players were subjected to a hazing ritual during summer football camp that included a crude act called an "atomic sit-up," in which the sophomores were fooled into making indecent contact with other athletes.

Seven high school wrestlers were suspended last year in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for a hazing incident in which wrestlers pinned down other students and probed their buttocks with the handle of a mop. No criminal charges were filed, but the school cancelled the wrestling season.

Colleges

The nature of hazing can become more sophisticated -- or just more dangerous -- in college, where alcoholic beverages -- according to the Alfred University study -- are involved in more than half of athletic initiation rites, including those involving female athletes:

Alfred University forfeited a football game after five of the school's players were charged in a hazing incident in which younger players were forced to drink large amounts of an alcoholic beverage. Five freshman football players ended up in a local hospital with suspected alcohol poisoning.

Eight Potsdam State University female lacrosse players were arrested last year and charged with multiple counts of reckless endangerment after forcing first-year players to drink alcohol at an off-campus party.

Pros

Considering the tremendous investment that pro teams make in their players, it's almost surprising that any physical initiation rites are permitted in big-time sports, but hazing -- to varying degrees -- remains commonplace:

Last summer, five New Orleans Saints rookies had pillowcases pulled over their heads and were forced to pass through a gantlet of veterans, one of whom struck them with a bag of coins. Two of the young players suffered significant injuries and one sued, eventually settling out of court for an undisclosed amount.

San Diego Chargers veteran Junior Seau recently admitted that he obtained the credit card of rookie quarterback Ryan Leaf and ran up thousands of dollars in charges, just to see how Leaf would react.

Pub Date: 9/17/99

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