Sports

Hazing remains a problem in sports

Justis column: It can a form of bullying, too

Hazing can take a lot of different forms, like Denver Broncos rookie tackle Charles Sweeton and his haircut and beard, but it also can be a form of bullying. (USA Today Sports)
Hazing can take a lot of different forms, like Denver Broncos rookie tackle Charles Sweeton and his haircut and beard, but it also can be a form of bullying. (USA Today Sports)

We’ve been here before, talking about hazing and bullying in youth sports.

I wish I didn’t have to revisit the topic, but a recent incident caught my eye. Important issues always should be addressed periodically to keep problems in check.

What happened recently in Maryland is shocking and disgusting. There are varying degrees of hazing and bullying. I won’t go into these particular details, but four 15-year-old boys turned off the lights in a locker room and “attacked” younger football players.

The attackers could be tried as adults because the attacks were so vicious.

“It’s part of tradition,” they said when one of the victims said to stop.

“Hazing per se is not a mental health disorder, however, hazing and the issues that surround it have a clear mental health impact,” said Alex B. Diamond of Vanderbilt Sports Medicine and lead author of an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said in a HuffPost story.

Eighty percent of NCAA athletes say they have experienced some form of hazing throughout their college athletic careers. Forty-two percent reported also being hazed in high school.

The article also noted “maltreatment can have many adverse psychological effects like sexual difficulties, low self-esteem, interpersonal problems, depression, anxiety, emotional instability, physical self-abuse, eating disorders and substance abuse.

“Students who find hazing socially acceptable are more likely to experience it.”

Diamond said “in order to begin to eliminate hazing, a culture shift is required and needs to be embraced.”

We all have heard the mantra, “If you see something, say something” when it comes to suspicious or criminal activity. Jim Thompson, founder of Positive Coaching Alliance and author of “Elevating Your Game,” said “... many of the injustices in the world happen because observers stand idly by because they lack ‘moral courage.’ Moral courage is standing up publicly for what you believe is right even when others — including sometimes your friends and teammates — don’t.”

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Michele Borba, an expert on bullying, was asked to teach middle school students bystander strategies to deal with bullies.

“Studies show that active bystanders can do more than just watch,” she said. “In fact, student bystanders may be our last, best hope in reducing bullying.”

Active student bystanders can:

— Reduce the audience that a bully craves.

— Mobilize the compassion of witnesses to step in and stop the bullying.

— Support the victim and reduce the trauma.

— Be a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode.

— Encourage other students to support a school climate of caring.

— Report a bullying incident since 85 percent of time bullying occurs when an adult is not present.

“When bystanders intervene correctly, studies find they can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds,” Borba said. “There are parameters to activate student bystanders.”

Here are a few facts to ensure success:

— You must give students permission to step in.

— You must also teach specific strategies so they can step in.

— Each strategy must be rehearsed or role-played, until kids can use it alone. (Role-play in assemblies, make them into chart reminders that are posted, create mini-videos of each strategy to share with peers.)

— Not every strategy will work for every student, so you must provide a range of strategies.

— Ideally you must enlist your peer leaders, those students on the highest popularity tier who other students look up to, to mobilize other peers.

— Adults must be on board with the approach and understand what bullying is and how to respond. Adults must listen to student reports on bullying and back students up. The biggest reason kids say they don’t report: “The adult didn’t listen or do anything to help.”

Several years ago, Andover (Mass.) High School officials proposed changes in their hazing policy following an incident with the varsity basketball team at a summer training camp. Some of the changes included barring freshmen from playing varsity basketball, football, baseball and other sports.

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Also athletes found responsible for initiating or failing to report hazing would be “removed from participation on their team for the duration of their time at Andover ... and will be subject to discipline up to and including expulsion.” Team captains were appointed solely by coaches, each team was required to perform a community service project each season and an acknowledgment that “student-athletes are expected to be role models at the school and in the greater community.”

Whenever I hear of hazing or bullying incidents I always ask one question: Where were the coaches and administrators?

Someone in a position of oversight should be in attendance at all times. At least one of these people should also sit in the back of the bus during all trips. What is the school’s or team’s culture? One should be put in place where there is pride in a program that is hazing and bullying free.

“Players must respect themselves, other athletes, the game and its history, the school and their role, connectivity and responsibility to the community,” said Michael F. Bergeron, president and CEO of Youth Sports of the Americas, in an email to Reuters Health. “If these qualities are deeply and recognizably emblazoned into the foundation and unwavering expectation of every athlete, team activity, game and season, then it is far less likely that hazing will occur and/or be tolerated.”

l Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at njustis@cfu.net

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