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Outside the Lines

Rites and Wrongs

Athlete hazing on the rise

Athletes call it leadership

A victim calls it abuse

Problems in youth hockey

States creating hazing laws


Sports hazing incidents since 1980

Message board: What do you think about athlete hazing?


 OutSide the Lines
Hank Nuwer says freshman athletes seek acceptance from veterans.
Standard | Cable Modem

 Outside the Lines
Anthropologist Lionel Tiger says hazing is a form of testing the newest members.
Standard | Cable Modem

Tuesday, June 3
Athletes abusing athletes
By Tom Farrey

In Vermont, hockey players grab each others' genitalia and parade around in a freshman initiation ceremony. In Connecticut, a high school wrestler is hog-tied and sodomized with the blunt end of a plastic knife. In Oklahoma, a football player suffers a head injury after being jumped by teammates.

Nick Haben
Since the death of Nicholas Haben, who died in a lacrosse team initiation in 1990, awareness of athlete hazing has grown.

In Indianapolis, a phone rings off the hook.

"It's just been non-stop," sighs Hank Nuwer, a leading hazing authority, of the media's recent interest in sports-team hazing.

After decades, perhaps even a century, of darkness, the hazing of athletes by athletes is getting its first thorough public examination. Once seemingly the province of fraternities and the military, hazing has emerged from the shadows. A series of initiation-related incidents gone wrong have forced the world of sports to look inward to quantify and address any problems.

Answers are not easy to come by. There has been only one comprehensive study done on sports team hazing -- by Alfred (N.Y.) University, which last year surveyed athletes, coaches and administrators on 224 college campuses. The response rate in some sports, such as football, was low. Some athletic directors dismissed the study's premise as ridiculous, insisting that hazing was confined to Greek Row.

One of the more telling findings was that only 12 percent of respondents checked the "yes" box when asked if they had been hazed. Yet, when asked about specific activities they were asked to engage in when they joined the team -- everything from physical abuse to forced consumption of alcohol to wearing embarrassing clothes -- 79 percent said they had been subjected to what the authors deemed questionable or unacceptable hazing.

The vast gulf between the perception of athletes and what the Alfred authors consider reality points out the first challenge in understanding hazing: Simply defining the term. Many of those who have gone through stress-inducing activities upon joining a team argue that "hazing" -- a word with a negative connotation -- does not accurately describe their experience, because they consented to the exercises, and often even enjoyed them.

Online and on television, explore the issue of hazing in sports this week as the Emmy Award-winning Outside the Lines presents "Rites and Wrongs," a show and companion Internet series on the topic.

The one-hour show, originally shown on Tuesday, re-airs Thursday at 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. Pacific) on ESPN and then again on Saturday, April 22 at noon ET.

The five-day online series runs through Friday and features original articles, polls and a message board that allows you to join in the debate.

"One of the most pervasive beliefs in sports is that hazing, or initiation, builds unity," said Nuwer, the author of three books on hazing in various cultural institutions. "They think it's something good, or that it (creates) a kind of camaraderie."

The Alfred University researchers defined hazing as, "Any activity expected of someone joining the group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person's willingness to participate. This does not include activities such as rookies carrying the balls, team parties with community games, or going out with your teammates, unless an atmosphere of humiliation, abuse or danger arises."

Clear enough. And yet, as Bobby Knight and Indiana University have demonstrated, the culture of sports often includes varying degrees of school-sanctioned degradation, danger and abuse. The lines of proper behavior are blurred to college athletes, many of whom never have been talked to by administrators or coaches about hazing.

High school athletes are even less equipped to deal with the issue. Robert F. Kanaby, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said issues regarding hazing are so new that his organization has not even issued a formal statement on such activities.

"My guess is that the number of state (athletic governing bodies) that have made statements would be limited as well," Kanaby said. "It's one of those issues people don't address until they have to."

Reported incidents

The growth of reported incidents of serious acts of hazing by athletes, according to research:


In 1998, New Orleans Saints tight end Cam Cleeland and another player were injured in a hazing activities in training camp that included running through a gantlet of players who hit the rookies with bags of coins.

Antennae were raised further when University of Vermont administrators canceled the school's hockey season last December after fourth-string, walk-on goalie Corey LaTulippe filed a lawsuit against the university and seven players who allegedly hazed him. The state attorney general issued a scathing report on the matter, in which nine freshmen were asked to participate in a range of questionable activities, including parading around a house naked while holding the genitals of the person ahead of them in line -- the so-called "elephant walk."

The hazing issue continued to catch fire with the case involving a Trumbull (Conn.) high school wrestler, a special-education student who was allegedly tortured by team veterans in a series of attacks.

Publicity surrounding those events gave shape to a series of other athlete hazing incidents in the past year -- in Illinois, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin and elsewhere. Hazing is now a genuine concern of many school officials, as well as the NCAA, which actively has supported and promulgated the Alfred findings.

Only one athlete is known to have died from a hazing event conducted as part of a team initiation: Nicholas Haben, a lacrosse player at Western Illinois University, in 1990 after a drinking exercise. Since then, according to research, at least 59 incidents of hazing involving athletes have been documented, setting the stage for this year's national hand-wringing about the issue.

Hazing by sports teams is distinguished from fraternity hazing in some ways, Nuwer said. Without a formal pledge program or fraternity-style house in which to gather, athlete initiations more often revolve around one big night of activities. Also, the coach already has decided who will be on the team, so the youngest members are simply looking for peer acceptance from their teammates.

Still, that need for approval can be a powerful component, considering the importance of teamwork in an individual's athletic success.

"There's probably an awful lot of sports teams that have very minor initiations or no hazing at all," Nuwer said. "But let's look at the 80 percent who were hazed, and the athletes who were involved in alcohol or some sort of criminal behavior. That's a pattern I don't think we can ignore."

Tom Farrey is a senior writer for He can be reached at

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