Hazing in School Sports Research Paper Starter

Hazing in School Sports

(Research Starters)

Hazing cases in high school athletics in the early twenty-first century illustrate the scope and impact of hazing on the student athletes, schools, and surrounding communities. Research on hazing reveals the meanings attached to hazing, the effects of hazing, the nature of hazing, and the prevalence of hazing in sport. Reasons for its existence and perpetuation are related to anthropological theories on rites of passage, the human need to belong, and the process of identity construction and confirmation in sport subcultures. Educators, parents, coaches, and administrators can proactively prevent hazing in their schools through the implementation of anti-hazing policies and educating athletes about hazing.

Keywords Athletic Hazing; Athletic Identity; Athletics; Identity Confirmation; Identity Construction; Hazing; Mental Hazing; Need to Belong; Physical Hazing; Rite of Passage; Scholastic Sport; Sexual Hazing


In the 2000s and 2010s, highly publicized cases of hazing have forced some educators, parents, and researchers to ask why this is happening. Hazing incidents that have occurred in high school sport have included, but are not limited to, athletes being:

• Forced to consume alcohol

• Covered in animal entrails

• Kidnapped and covered in water and flour

• Forced to have their heads shaved

• Restrained with duct tape

• Forced to put their heads in a toilet

Severe hazing incidents may indicate that some component of education is missing in these athletes' lives. That component may be the lack of strong and positive leadership, knowledge about the legal risks of hazing, a clear understanding of what hazing is, or a well-defined anti-hazing policy.

Definition of Hazing

Various definitions of hazing have been proposed by state laws, researchers, school administrators, and insurance companies. One definition of hazing is "any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate" (Stophazing, Inc., 2004). Another definition that was used by Hoover (1999) in a study of hazing in collegiate athletics is "any activity expected of someone joining a 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, degradation, abuse or danger arises." Nuwer (1999) also included the issue of higher status group members in his definition:

“Activity that a high-status member orders other members to engage in, or suggest that they engage in, that in some way humbles a newcomer who lacks the power to resist, because he or she wants to gain admission to a group. Hazing can be non-criminal, but it is nearly always against the rules of an institution, team, or Greek group. It can be criminal, which means that a state statute has been violated. This usually occurs when a pledging-related activity results in gross physical injury or death” (Nuwer, 1999, p. xxv).

There are underlying themes common to each of these definitions are humiliation, degradation, abuse, and danger. Yet, these examples demonstrate that there is no standard definition of hazing, which may be detrimental to the effort to eliminate hazing traditions. Kirby and Wintrup (2002, p.67), offer a composite definition of athletic hazing:

A series of numerous hazardous activities that veteran team members order rookies to engage in, or suggest that they engage in, that in some way humbles (Nuwer, 1999, p. xxv), degrades or embarrasses them, recklessly or intentionally endangers their mental or physical health or safety, for the purposes of admission (Oklahoma State University, n.d., p. 2) to a team and where the rookies lack the power to resist because they want to gain membership into the group (Nuwer, 1999, p. xxv).

Hazing can be criminal or non-criminal and can be categorized into mental, physical, and sexual hazing. Berrill (1992, p. 22) as cited by Kirby & Wintrup (2002), defined mental hazing as consisting "of activities including racial, sexual and/or gender-based insults and taunts to stress or to diminish a rookie's sense of self and his/her capacity to make decisions." Mental hazing may include extended periods of sleep deprivation, sexual or racial ridicule, or forced conduct that is uncomfortable for the participant. Physical hazing aims to place physical pressure on rookies through activities like binge drinking, paddling, or forced calisthenics (Nuwer, 1999). Sexual hazing "consists of activities specifically designed to harass and abuse rookies by sexualizing them, diminishing their masculinity (for males) or femininity (for females) or their sexual identity, and/or by targeting them in sexually harassing and sexually abusive activities" (Berrill, 1992, p. 22 as cited by Kirby & Wintrup, 2002).

The definitional issue is relevant to research, policy issues, and law and legislation. Anti-hazing laws vary greatly among states. As of 2013, six states had no anti-hazing legislation, including: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Of the forty-four states that do have laws, some provide criminal penalties to the offenders and others also punish any individual who does not disclose information about a hazing incident (Dixon, 2001; Rosner & Crow, 2002). In some cases, laws may or may not be applied to high school students. In states without anti-hazing laws, there is no legal restriction on hazing, and school policies may not be supported in court (Dixon, 2001; Rosner & Crow, 2002).


Throughout history, group membership has often been contingent upon an individual's participation in some form of an initiation. Initiations typically serve to test the 'fit' of an individual wishing to join a group by testing the courage, commitment, and loyalty of the initiate (Tiger, 1984). There is evidence dating back to 387 BCE that some form of bullying and taunting has occurred among young boys and newcomers in societies, universities, and militaries (Nuwer, 2004). During the Renaissance Era — when European universities were on the rise - hazing was rampant among students. Some schools chose to fight the practice by creating anti-hazing rules and organizations. For example, in 1340 the University of Paris began expelling students who participated in hazing, and in 1441 the Avignon School created an anti-hazing fraternity (Nuwer, 2004). This was not the end of hazing, as Martin Luther endured it while he was a student at Erfurt and was later recognized as a supporter of the practice. He claimed that it helped "strengthen a boy to face and endure life's challenges" (Nuwer, 2004, p. xxv). In 1657, at Harvard University, two students were forced to pay small fines for hazing another student (Nuwer, 2004). In a number of cases, death and serious injury have occurred as a result of these activities. Deaths began to be reported as a result of hazing incidents when in 1838 John Butler Groves was killed by a hazing that was described in his family's history (Nuwer, 2004). A Cornell student fell to his death in a gorge while pledging the Kappa Alpha Society in 1873 (Nuwer, 2004).

Further Insights

Research on Hazing

Limited research has been conducted on hazing in all types of organizations or settings. This is due in part to the secretive nature of hazing and the potentially sensitive issues that may be revealed or tapped into when examining this phenomenon (Kirby & Wintrup, 2002). Much of the research has been only exploratory (e.g., Bryshun & Young, 1999; Johnson, 2001; Winslow, 1999) and descriptive (e.g., Conn, Tompkins, & Hunter, 1993; Crandall, 2003; Hoover, 1999; Hoover & Pollard, 2000). These efforts have provided information about the extent to which hazing occurs and what types of activities the hazed individuals have experienced. Research on hazing in sport conducted at the collegiate and high school levels has revealed that:

• Hazing is viewed as a tradition or "just what you do" by athletes (Hinkle, 2005)

• Hazing is prevalent in sport (Hoover, 1999)

• The definition of hazing is not understood by many athletes (Crandall, 2003; Hinkle, 2005; Hoover, 1999; Hoover & Pollard, 2000)

• Hazed athletes experience positive (e.g., pride, accepted, trusted) AND negative consequences (e.g., embarrassed, humiliated, ostracized) (Crandall, 2003; Hinkle, 2005; Hoover & Pollard, 2000)

• The majority of hazing occurs in the locker room, but it may also happen in the gymnasium, on the athletic field, or off campus (Conn, Tompkins, & Hunter, 1993)

• Males engage in hazing or are hazed more often than females (Conn, Tompkins, & Hunter, 1993)

• Hazing reinforces the power structure of the organization/team (Bryshun & Young, 2001; Johnson, 2001)

• Hazing activities serve to test the rookies' commitment and dedication to the team (Bryshun & Young, 2001)

To have a more complete understanding of why initiations and hazing rituals exist and are perpetuated in scholastic sport, it is useful to turn to anthropological literature describing rites of passage.

The Existence

Rites of Passage

Leemon (1972) defined rites of passage as "the recurring social mechanisms that a society provides for the orderly transitions in its social relationships and that serve as revitalization, comprise a series of events that include rituals and ceremonies" (p.1). Morinis (1985) offers a summary of the anthropological arguments used to explain the purpose of the rites of initiation. He concluded that rites:

"(1) accomplish the transition from youth to adult social status; (2) express a statement of the importance of the individual to the group; (3) release or channel the psychological stress of changing roles; (4) ease the social stress of role changes; (5) contribute to the development of prized virtues like courage and forbearance; and (6) educate youths into the secrets and techniques of adulthood" (p. 152).

The three key components of ritual initiation theories...

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