Hazing, the problem that won’t go away



By John Murphy 

The ugly topic of hazing arose again last week as six football players and an assistant coach at an Oregon high school were cited for their roles in aggravated hazing incidents against 11 freshmen players.

The incidents allegedly happened at a team camp attended by players from Philomath High School, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported.

Now the hammer has dropped. A Philomath assistant coach was cited for second-degree criminal mistreatment. Also, Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson told the Gazette-Times juvenile petitions will be filed against the six players who were allegedly involved in “offensive physical contact with intimate parts.”

One freshman was allegedly victimized twice.

All of which prompts the question, could something like this happen to athletes at Half Moon Bay High School? Half Moon Bay athletic director Justin Ferdinand said hazing is a topic covered by the school in the preseason.

“It’s brought up,” said Ferdinand, who is also the school’s boys water polo coach. “Our code of conduct states there is a zero tolerance for hazing and bullying. This is discussed in our sports information meetings that are held three times a year and it’s something the coaches talk to their teams about privately.”

It should be, based on what has happened in Oregon and elsewhere over the years. The topic is serious enough that there are multiple organizations and sites such as hazingprevention.com and stophazing.org devoted to it. In fact, last week hazingprevention.org said a host of colleges will screen the new feature film “Goat” during National Hazing Prevention Week (Sept. 19 to Sept. 23).

“Goat,” starring Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer and Palo Alto High School graduate James Franco, tells the story of two brothers who become embroiled in hazing at a college fraternity. The film examines what happens in the name of “brotherhood” and how it can test boys and their relationships. There will be a screening of the film at the University of California, Berkeley, on Sept. 23.

Unfortunately, these incidents are not all that rare. In 2014, two Woodside High School basketball coaches were fired after a hazing incident at a Newman, Calif., motel when the team was participating in a holiday tournament. In this instance two players were allegedly jumped and beaten and then taped to chairs. One player was forced to watch Spanish-language television for hours and another had lipstick applied to his face.

That’s not bonding or team-building folks, it’s just another example of meanness run amok. It also resulted in in a civil lawsuit against the Sequoia Union High School District that was settled out of court.

Hazing is defined by hazingprevention.org as, “Any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

Hazing statistics are alarming. According to insidehazing.com, 1.5 million high school students are hazed each year; 48 percent of high school students report being hazed; 43 percent were subjected to humiliating activities and 30 percent performed potentially illegal acts as part of their initiation. Every kind of high school group was involved in hazing, including 24 percent of students in church groups.

It’s not always criminal, but it is always wrong. At Citrus Valley High School in Redlands two springs ago, a softball coach allegedly had new players lick dirt from the field while being videotaped. Players were told, “Everybody has to do it,” according to the Redlands Daily Facts newspaper. One young player was shown on video with her tongue caked in dirt.

I spoke to Emily Pualwan, the executive director of hazingprevention.org after that incident and she said: “If players are required to lick dirt in order to be a member of a team or join a team that would clearly fall within our definition of hazing.”

That’s bad, but not nearly as serious as what happened in 2000 in Southern California with the Yucca Valley High School football team. In an incident eerily similar to what happened recently in Oregon, five Yucca Valley players settled for a sexual battery charge after admitting involvement in a sexual assault.

It was sick, criminal behavior.

Hazing, bullying – it’s a phenomenon veteran Half Moon Bay High School boys basketball coach Rich Forslund has difficulty wrapping his mind around.

“It’s not something I really understand,” Forslund said. “It’s often a situation where there is a rite of passage involved, where younger players are subordinate to older players. It’s basically just bad behavior and it’s even more unfortunate when a coach participates.”

John Murphy can be reached at sports@hmbreview.com