Academic journal article New Zealand Physical Educator

Bullying and Hazing/initiation in Schools: How Sports and Physical Education Can Be Part of the Problem and Part of the Solution

Academic journal article New Zealand Physical Educator

Bullying and Hazing/initiation in Schools: How Sports and Physical Education Can Be Part of the Problem and Part of the Solution

Article excerpt


Duane coaches lacrosse ata New Jersey high school. The programme is well respected by the local community, and successful, Duane's teams regularly go to the play off s and have won the championship twice in the last five years. Duane is proud of the team's achievements and believes that sport can teach positive values such as fair play and self-respect. He encourages the lacrosse players to be role models for the student body and for younger kids in the community. However, Duane has a hazing dilemma that he does not know how to handle.

During the Easter Spring Break week the lacrosse team makes a trip to Florida to train. Traditionally, this is where the annual initiation ritual for the freshmen team members takes place, organized by the junior team members. They gather the freshmen players in one room, have them put on lacrosse helmets and gloves, and fight one on one until one freshman is left standing. Then the freshmen players have their heads shaved. The winner keeps his hair.

Typically coaches turn a blind eye to this practice but Duane is in a quandary. The ritual has been a team tradition for years, and a source of great anticipation by team members. They think it builds team spirit. But Duane is ambivalent about the idea of fighting and the idea of shaving heads. He feels that the image of lacrosse is ill served by the "boot camp" mentality that the tradition reinforces. Suppose there are injuries, either psychological or physical or both. Duane is responsible. Suppose there are complaints by parents. What sort of a message does the hazing ritual send about the team and the school? And what would happen to the Florida trip if this type of behavior became common knowledge? Duane is thinking about ending the ritual this year. What would you do, and why would you do it?

Hazing rituals (called initiation in New Zealand) like the one described above (only Duane's name is fictitious) are common in high school sports all across America. Historically they have been seen as positive, helping athletes develop team spirit and learn discipline. In this article I locate hazing rituals in the context of other high school sports rituals in American schools. I also describe an incident of sports hazing at a school near my university involving extreme physical violence and sexual abuse, and show how this incident was interpreted by key stake holders in the community. Because of the widespread perception that sport in America (and probably New Zealand as well) is a positive "character builder," hazing and bullying in sports makes such behavior more widely accepted. I encourage physical education teachers and coaches to reject hazing and other forms of bullying, and suggest proactive curriculum innovations that offer athletes more positive alternatives for team building and personal development.

Rituals, myths and school sports

School sports in America takes place within the context of a number of culturally unique public rituals. The pep rally for example is a common high school sports ritual in which the student body comes together in the gymnasium or auditorium to celebrate school unity by supporting the school athletic teams prior to a game against an important rival. This usually occurs on a Friday afternoon before the Homecoming game (see below) when the academic schedule has been reduced to make room for the event, although past practice in some communities has been for a pep rally every Friday during football season. Traditionally a celebration of support for the school football team, the ritual has been widened to include all the athlete teams (both male and female) as well as cheerleaders, and other organized support groups such as dancers, baton twirlers and the school band, although most often in the fall season the football team is highlighted. The coaches, team captains, and often the Principal and other school administrators will address the student body encouraging them to show school spirit by support the team. …

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