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Sports

Sayreville and the High School Hazing Epidemic

The cancellation of Sayreville High School's football season over incidents of hazing reveals a broader, systemic issue.

by Smriti Sinha
Oct 10 2014, 5:23pm

Photo by Robert Herrera via WIkimedia Commons

There's little you can find out about what goes on in a high school locker room, but you wouldn't imagine a football player being pinned down to the floor with a finger forced up his ass.

However, that's exactly what happened to multiple freshmen in the Sayreville War Memorial High School football program, according to details that have come out about an under-investigation hazing incident. The incident has led to the cancellation of the rest of the Bombers' season across all levels.

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"There was enough evidence that there were incidents of harassment, of intimidation and bullying that took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level and at a level at which the players knew, tolerated and generally accepted," School Superintendent Richard Labbe told reporters while making the cancellation announcement. "I understand how the seniors feel not to have that last game, not to walk out on the field for the last time with their mom and dad."

While some parents narrated horrifying and disturbing details of the hazing, others with children on the football and cheerleading teams called for the season's cancellation to be overturned.

"I'm outraged that their season is taken away from them and they did nothing wrong," said Theresa Tamburri, mother of a freshman year Sayreville cheerleader to NJ Advance Media. "Let them play. Give them their season back. Give them what they worked hard for."

In a football-obsessed community, Labbe expected that reaction to follow but felt it was important to cancel the games. Victoria Fahlberg, a sports psychology consultant specializing in hazing and bullying prevention, feels that when incidents of hazing involving athletes are reported, people tend to side with the perpetrators because they value sports more than anything else.

"The community is not so concerned about the freshman, who in their mind may or may not have had something happen to them, as they are about their senior football players," Fahlberg told VICE Sports. She went on to say that when she conducted a hazing prevention course at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association headquarters in August, she felt few schools came for serious training and information on the issue.

There have been several high-profile reported cases of hazing—which is illegal in 44 states—in high schools across the country, and they aren't limited to just football. In 2012, the women's volleyball season at SUNY Geneseo was shut down after 11 current and former team members were charged with hazing eight freshmen year teammates. The same year, three soccer players at La Puente High School in Los Angeles reported hazing and sexual assault against their teammates. Last year, three soccer players from Western Massachusetts' Somerville High School were accused of raping a freshman with a broomstick during a preseason camp. Four baseball players at Florence High School in New Jersey were suspended in 2013 after a large-scale investigation revealed a longtime "hazing tradition" at the school. The true scope of the problem is even worse than any individual example can convey.

According to an Alfred University survey of 2,027 high school athletes in 2000, 49 percent responded that extreme consumption of something was a usual aspect of initiation. Out of them, 25 percent were first hazed before the age of 13. It also confirmed that the greatest number (24 percent) of hazing incidents occur among sports teams.

Because of the confidentiality laws involving minors in most states, there is little information that can be made public while cases are being investigated or go to juvenile court. "Lack of information helps people lose the collective memory of these incidents. People start to feel that since nothing came out, maybe it wasn't that bad," Fahlberg adds. In the Sayreville community, many already feel that way.

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