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'No acceptable level' of hazing, expert says after Wheaton College arrests

"There is no acceptable level" of hazing in high school or college sports, says Hank Nuwer, who has written several books about hazing as a social problem and lectured on the subject at colleges nationwide.

What sometimes is referred to as good-natured hazing "is an oxymoron," said Nuwer, 71, professor of journalism at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana. "It only takes one player to have that permission to take things out of bounds."

Nuwer has spent more than 30 years researching hazing on college campuses and has compiled a database of hazing-related deaths on his website, The Hazing Clearinghouse, dating back to 1838.

The arrests of five Wheaton College football players accused of hazing two teammates were up for discussion with Nuwer's sports issues class Tuesday, and he said students raised many questions, including when the hazing culture began, what the college administrators knew about it and when, whether they notified authorities, and if there are other victims.

"In many states, the minute an administrator or coach knows of a behavior which most likely needs to be investigated by police, that has to follow the way lightning follows thunder," Nuwer said. "It must be reported."

Wheaton College players James Cooksey, Kyler Kregel, Benjamin Pettway, Noah Spielman and Samuel TeBos this week were charged with felony aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint in connection with the March 2016 hazing of a teammate.

Police said the 19-year-old freshman transfer student from Indiana was in a dorm room watching college basketball at about 10 p.m. when he was tackled by the football players. His legs and wrists were wrapped in duct tape, a pillow case was put over his head and he was placed in the back seat of a vehicle, police said. His hands were bound behind his back.

Terry Ekl, an attorney representing the freshman, said the abductors talked about sexually violating his client. Ekl said both of his client's shoulder muscles were torn, requiring at least three surgeries.

The victim contacted police, left the school the next day and has since transferred from Wheaton College.

Hazing rituals are meant to initiate and welcome someone onto a team. What's described by Ekl and police was far different, Nuwer said.

Nuwer criticized Wheaton College's decision to allow the players to stay on the team roster and play football for 18 months. They were suspended on Tuesday.

College leaders say the matter was brought to their attention in March 2016 and that they imposed a range of "corrective actions" at that time, which they would not disclose.

Nuwer said Illinois's anti-hazing law isn't harsh enough. He wants Congress to pass the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing Act "calling for greater transparency and mandatory education" about hazing.

Schools and colleges have to take a stance against hazing, he said.

"A school such as Wheaton has its values imposed on the students from the very beginning, and that's a good thing. But you have to live up to it. What it looks like here is football became the religion."

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  Five players on Wheaton College's football team are charged with multiple felonies in connection with the hazing of a teammate. Bev Horne/bhorne@dailyherald.com
  Five football players from Wheaton College face felony charges related to the hazing of a teammate. Bev Horne/bhorne@dailyherald.com
  Although the hazing of a Wheaton College football player occurred more than a year ago, five players were not charged until this week. Bev Horne/bhorne@dailyherald.com
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