Hazing in Youth Sports

Joining a team can be an exciting time for a young athlete, a time where they develop their athletic skills, strengthen their sense of responsibility, and create lasting friendships. Unfortunately, in order to become part of the team, many young athletes have to take part in a practice known as hazing.

What is hazing?

Hazing is a negative type of initiation, often involving illegal or inappropriate acts. (Peluso, 2006) According to the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention, “Hazing is 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.” (Prevention, n.d.) These acts can involve theft, inappropriate sexual activities, or excessive alcohol consumption.

Hazing can seem harmless at first, but the power of coercion can escalate quickly, putting athletes’ health and safety in danger. It can be hard for athletes to recognize the danger until it’s too late. (Wolverton, 2006) These athletes have few adults to turn to, as coaches, who went through hazing rituals themselves, typically look the other way. (Wolverton, 2006) (Goodale, 2012)

What the research shows

Often, coaches are aware of the rituals and sometimes even alumni are present. (Elizabeth J. Allan & Mary Maddan, 2008) With such a wide acceptance from leaders, students rarely report hazing.
Alfred University conducted a study on hazing shortly after an incident on their campus which made national headlines: “In August 1998, five freshman football players were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after being tied together at an off-campus party and forced to drink alcohol and water until they passed out or vomited.” (Suggs, 1999) Theirs has been one of the most comprehensive studies on hazing to date.

The study divided hazing into three categories: questionable activities (humiliating or degrading), alcohol-related, or unacceptable (illegal or risky). It found that 65% had participated in questionable activities, 51% in alcohol-related activities, and 21% in unacceptable activities.
The Alfred University study was released in 1999. Since then, hazing has made more headlines and has become more dangerous in nature. Still, athletes rarely report it.

A more recent and comprehensive study (2008) by the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention shows an increase in hazing activities. This study polled over 11,000 students from across the nation. The top findings show that over half of college athletes are subject to some form of hazing and 47% had already experienced hazing before college. 95% did not report the activity to college officials.