Hazing law sponsor says Wheaton case shows need for tougher rules
A suburban lawmaker who sponsored anti-hazing legislation four years ago says allegations by a former Wheaton College football player show the law needs to be strengthened.
"We'll have to make stronger laws with heavier punishments," state Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, said in an interview.
Moylan and some who work with young athletes say they're dismayed by the number and scope of hazing cases even after a strong emphasis on prevention in recent years.
At Wheaton College, five football players face felony charges after being accused of abducting a freshman on the team, restraining him with duct tape, putting a pillow case over his head, suggesting he would be sexually violated and leaving him in a baseball field in March 2016.
While it's the latest suburban hazing scandal, it's far from the only one in recent years. Lake Zurich Unit District 95 faces a federal lawsuit in which it is accused of allowing hazing and bullying to occur in the high school football team locker room last year. In the past decade, hazing scandals have rocked Northern Illinois University, where a student died, as well as high schools in Crystal Lake and Des Plaines.
Despite new state laws and school-based anti-hazing initiatives during that time, Olen McGhee, a Mundelein-based trainer for high school and college athletes, said he believes hazing is worse than it was in the past.
"Core values aren't the same anymore," he said, and social media can make hazing or bullying seem more appealing to teens.
Moylan called it "ridiculous" that the March 2016 hazing at Wheaton only became public in recent days. Though it was reported to the college and to police at the time, the players remained on the team until last week.
Moylan's bill, signed into law by former Gov. Pat Quinn in August 2013, created a new criminal offense for school officials who fail to report hazing that "he or she personally observes." A separate law makes hazing a misdemeanor in Illinois, or a felony if it causes death or serious harm.
Hank Nuwer, a professor at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, and a hazing expert, echoed Moylan's argument that Illinois's anti-hazing law isn't strong enough. Nuwer wants Congress to pass the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing Act "calling for greater transparency and mandatory education" about hazing.
Many suburban schools have anti-hazing policies and campaigns, which some put in place after two freshmen on the Maine West High School varsity boys soccer team said they had been assaulted Sept. 26, 2012, by seniors inside the Des Plaines school as part of a hazing ritual. A lawsuit resulted in a $1 million settlement paid out to five former students. Two soccer coaches were fired, and the head athletic director resigned.
In 2010, police arrested five Prairie Ridge High School wrestlers on misdemeanor battery charges claiming they hazed teammates at the Crystal Lake school.
In 2015, nearly two dozen former NIU students were found guilty of misdemeanors in the 2012 death of David Bogenberger of Palatine, a freshman who died following a fraternity pledge initiation involving heavy drinking.
A federal lawsuit against Lake Zurich Unit District 95 alleges Lake Zurich High School sports programs have had hazing rituals and traditions dating to at least 1997 and that they were known to coaches well before an Oct. 27, 2016, case involving football players became public.
Scott Smith, head football coach at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, said the school district has emphasized anti-hazing policies and education in the past few years. He said athletic directors and coaches need to make it clear there is "absolutely no place for hazing." Students should be supervised in locker rooms at all time, he added.
Smith, who has coached at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights and Niles North High School in Skokie and was athletic director at McHenry High School, said he's never had an issue with hazing on teams he's coached, though at some local schools "it's been a tradition."
"It's a vicious cycle that can just continue from year to year," he said. "If you're a coach where that's happening it's incumbent on you to make a change."
Coaches, McGhee said, "have more responsibility now. You have to be an uncle or second parent, give them some of the things they're not getting (at home). ... The good news about kids is, they do show up still apt to listen."
However, he said, "you have to have those laws in place," as a safeguard.
"We've been reexamining the current bill to see how we may need to strengthen it," Moylan said. "I'm just frustrated, to tell the truth."
• Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.