Why does hazing persist? What some experts say schools must do to fight it

Suburbs have had their share of cases over the years, too

Hazing rituals harm victims and damage sports programs, but they continue to happen throughout the Chicago area when administrators don't prioritize student welfare above winning, say experts who've worked with victims.

Though back in the news due to the firing of Northwestern football head coach Pat Fitzgerald, hazing goes on in far more locker rooms than is made public, said Natalie Graves, a sports social worker whose clients include hazing victims.

"The dark secret of some sports is that it is a general practice," Graves said. "It's part of a belief system that doing it builds teams and character, but the research says it's the opposite of that."

Graves said her clients who've been victims of hazing suffer low self-esteem, poor performance and isolation, and sometimes decide to quit sports altogether.

Attorney Anthony Romanucci, who represented student-athletes in hazing-related cases at Maine West High School's boys soccer program and the football programs at Lake Zurich and Plainfield Central high schools, said he saw the devastating effects of hazing in some of his clients.

"I can't begin to tell you the psychological impact it has on students," Romanucci said. "They become afraid, have to go into special programs or move schools."

To prevent hazing, Graves said, student athletic programs must invest in creating a culture that refuses to accept hazing and bullying.

"I recommend having athletes sign a pledge, and if it is broken there being real consequences," said Graves, who consults with Division 1 college sports programs and has written a workbook for athletes on mental health in sports. "They should have a preseason meeting with each program and teams to explain what will not be tolerated."

Graves said having a method in place for student-athletes to anonymously report hazing is important as well.

After the hazing scandal involving the Lake Zurich High School football team, District 95 made changes for all sports, including requiring a locker room supervision schedule and a mandatory anti-hazing presentation for varsity football players, their parents and guardians.

And Maine Township High School District 207 fired two Maine West soccer coaches, hired an independent investigator to look into the hazing allegations and brought in a consulting firm to lead anti-hazing focus groups at its three schools.

Romanucci said in his experience the best system in place for reporting hazing starts in the homes of student-athletes.

"Those whistleblowers who come forward are the ones who tell their family first," Romanucci said. "They don't tell other students because they're humiliated. And they don't tell administrators because they are afraid of them."

Graves said getting rid of hazing will benefit everyone involved in student athletics.

"The long-term ongoing effects of hazing have real mental health impacts on athletes and diminishes sports programs as a whole," Graves said. "It is really important for folks who love sports and work within sports to make this a priority."

Hazing in suburban schools

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