Hazing is sometimes brushed aside as youthful high jinks - just a raucous way of welcoming new members to an athletic team, for instance.
But recent cases in Connecticut and Vermont demolish that impression. They should spur efforts to do away with hazing as dangerous, often unlawful, and as damaging to the morale it claims to build.
Three high school wrestlers from Trumbull, Conn., face criminal charges after younger members of the team were hogtied and physically assaulted in a "tradition" that went back a number of years.
At the University of Vermont, freshmen players of the men's ice hockey team were subjected to sexual taunts and forced to consume large amounts of alcohol during a "Big Night" initiation party. When one freshman formally complained and later sued, and it became clear team members had lied to cover up the hazing, the university canceled the hockey season.
Nationwide reports of hazing in high schools have been rising. And survey research by Alfred University in New York found that 1 in 5 college athletes in the US are subjected to "unacceptable and potentially illegal hazing." Those who've followed the issue for years say the hazing rituals are becoming increasingly violent.
Most states - 41 - have antihazing laws. But the practices persist, largely because coaches and other officials tolerate them, and because too many athletes accept them as simply the price you pay to "belong."
Violence and humiliation are not acceptable prices, however. They simply breed more abuse - and hazing is not unrelated to the broader issue of violent behavior in amateur and professional athletics.
What's needed are school administrators who simply won't tolerate hazing as a rite of passage into a sports team. Beyond that, young men, in particular, need to be taught that effective team-building is a matter of hard work, respect, and encouraging the best in everyone - not tearing people down or asserting dominance over them.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society