State and national athletic governing bodies agree: Hazing not tolerated on any level, especially in high school
When Northwestern University fired Pat Fitzgerald as its head football coach amid myriad allegations of hazing incidents within the program, the university served notice that it was holding the leader of the program accountable.
While high school athletic departments are clearly structured differently than a major university, there's still a "pecking order" and a chain of command.
High schools don't all have the same accountability system in place, and state and national governing bodies give school officials autonomy in running their programs with good reason.
But when it comes to things like hazing, the Illinois High School Association, the Illinois Athletic Directors Association and the National Federation of High School Associations send a clear message.
"Hazing cannot and should not be tolerated in sports, especially at the high school level," said IHSA executive director Craig Anderson. "There have been a number of high-profile instances in sports throughout the recent past that have shed a greater light on hazing and the detrimental short- and long-term impact it has on its victims. I think those instances have been a good wake-up call for high school athletic programs, causing administrators and coaches alike to reflect more closely on the culture within their teams."
While acknowledging the importance of recognizing the issue, Anderson said it isn't a major issue in Illinois -- unlike California and Florida, where football programs have already been in the national spotlight this season over hazing issues.
"We have seen reports of a few isolated instances of hazing during my time at the IHSA, and each time I felt the school took immediate and appropriate action to prevent those situations from repeating itself," Anderson said. "I do not believe that hazing is currently an issue that many high school sports teams in Illinois are dealing with, but we need to continue to talk about and provide education on the topic to maintain athletic team cultures built on respect."
Which is exactly what the Illinois Athletic Directors Association is doing.
"I think as athletic directors in our state that it is imperative to take a look at all of our programs individually, and continue to find ways to keep hazing out of our programs and our school communities in general," said Mascoutah AD Scott Battas, the president of the IADA. "I know on a local level, we are meeting with student-athletes and athletic program leaders twice per month to address these topics and collectively find solutions to prevent things like hazing from happening within our locker rooms, fields, and courts. We understand that hazing has no place in interscholastic athletics, and we are making it a priority to address these types of difficult topics head on and as frequently as possible.
"On the state level, we plan to incorporate this topic in conversations with our membership and by addressing its significance and impact at our annual conference as a hot button item on our breakout sessions."
Nationally, Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, who is completing her fifth year as chief executive officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations, addressed the issue online in early August.
"If we needed evidence on a larger scale about the potential devastating effects of hazing within the athletics setting, the recent events at Northwestern University should cause all high school leaders to stand up and take notice," Niehoff wrote.
"What seems like innocent fun at first -- making freshmen handle the unpleasant chores as an example -- can sometimes spiral out of control and lead to loss of jobs for coaches, shattered lives for students and parents, and shame for the community at large.
"Year after year, events such as the football hazing scandal that jolted the Northwestern campus continue to occur -- at the high school and college levels. Although we are shocked, distraught, disappointed, discouraged and downright angry, progress over time seems limited at best."
Niehoff went on to outline how she feels schools need to address the behavior.
"As middle schools and high schools begin classes, and as fall sports teams hit the practice fields, this is another chance -- the next chance -- for coaches and administrators to do what is right," she said. "Bringing a halt to long-standing rituals may not be a popular decision in some settings, but in most cases, it is the best decision for the health and well-being of the students.
"Before the season starts is the time to lay down the ground rules, share the expected behavior and make it clear that every person is to be valued and that hazing will not be tolerated.
"Over the past two years, a number of horrific hazing incidents have occurred during the first month of the school year. Last year, in the month of August alone, there were five highly publicized incidents across the country -- one of which forced cancellation of a school's entire football season. Now is the time to change. Establishing an anti-hazing culture is the first step as the new school year begins. And that culture may need to include a different plan for welcoming new members. Inclusion must be accomplished without a "requirement" for being a part of the team.
"To build a positive school culture, coaches and athletic directors must take proactive steps. School leaders must supervise student-athletes and make it clear to every student that hazing will not be tolerated. An anti-hazing policy must be developed, and it should be presented to every student and parent in advance of every sport season. The policy should be simple -- no tolerance for hazing of any kind."
John Radtke can be reached at email@example.com