A worthwhile look at the clear impact of hazing

Bart Starr had one of the legendary careers in football history.

He quarterbacked the great Green Bay Packers' dynasty of the 1960s under Vince Lombardi and scored the game-winning touchdown in the famed "Ice Bowl." What made his Hall of Fame career even more remarkable is he played through significant back pain that started when he was in college at Alabama.

As a result of a hazing incident.

One that adversely affected his college career, kept him from serving in the Air Force and bothered him during the 16 seasons he played in Green Bay.

It was a secret that was kept quiet for decades until Starr's wife Cherry finally broke the silence to in late February. According to the story, Cherry Starr said her husband was beaten so severely in 1954 with a wooden paddle for initiation into the school's A-club for varsity lettermen that one of his Alabama teammates said the hazing was worse than anything he experienced in four years of service in the Marine Corps.

Why does this story matter 62 years later? Because next week is an important one as National Hazing Prevention Week starts Monday.

And Bart Starr's story shows that even the greatest athletes and people aren't immune to hazing. For fear of embarrassment, they also are not always willing to come forward and tell others what happened, and that code of silence helps perpetuate the problem.

We spend a great deal of proactive attention, and rightfully so, on the dangers of alcohol use, drugs, steroids, physically abusing others and other important issues. But is enough attention paid to a problem that seems to elicit more of a reactive than proactive response?

According to, more than half of college and university students involved in sports teams, clubs and organizations have experienced hazing. Both male and female students report a high level of hazing.

It is hardly harmless "boys being boys" or "girls being girls." If you didn't see the ESPN special "Hazing: The Hidden Horror," it is definitely worth taking the hour to watch. It shows, in somewhat disturbing fashion, how hazing can alter and even destroy so many lives - victims, perpetrators and those who are expected to prevent it from happening.

It's a message that can't be shared enough. Elliot Hopkins of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) does it throughout the country to schools that are interested. Hopkins, a Chicago native who played football at Wake Forest, would just prefer to do it in a proactive instead of reactive way.

High school athletes right now are focused on their current or upcoming seasons. But next week might be a good time for coaches and administrators to take some time to reiterate how important it is to do things to build up a team, school and community and not tear it down.

After all, it would be terrible to see someone with the potential to be the next Bart Starr suffer the same indignities he did as a young athlete.

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