Hazing, Jocks, Big Medicine, Gangs, and the Military

This is an essay about institutional/group hazing and bullying. I am privy to these cultural discussions having been an athlete all my life and now a university varsity sport coach for the past 6 years.

Hazing/bullying is finally being addressed in high schools, and now in universities. The final frontiers? Gangs, the military, and medical residency.

This story from Chicago was pretty egregious: underwear being ripped off and a kid being sodomized by his athletic team – in high school (http://northbrook.patch.com/articles/poll-are-schools-doing-enough-to-stop-hazing-bullyiing)

I still remember to this day the pain and embarrassment on L.M.’s face at my high school, when his underwear got ripped off by the wrestling team, thrown down amidst the varsity girl’s volleyball team where we were practicing, and he ran crying down the stairs toward the boy’s restroom. I remember the most popular girl in high school being upset about it, knowing exactly who had done this act to him. “That’s not cool!” she yelled up at him, while he returned an evil laugh.

Recently, a soccer team in our league (California’s CCAA) got a one-year suspension for forced alcohol consumption and humiliating hazing toward freshmen. Surprising in a town known for growing great marijuana, but I suppose that’s besides the point. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/22/sports/soccer-team-suspended-for-hazing.html?_r=0)

At a recent staff meeting at the university where I coach, we were recently given a list of hazing offenses. It was actually a list that came from fraternity/sorority anti-hazing guidelines, so a couple of things on the list made us coaches laugh, like “subjecting someone to feats of physical stamina.” What exactly are we supposed to do at our practices then? :-)

But it’s all for the best. It’s an indication that our society is “growing up,” I think, to start a national discussion on what constitutes physical and mental abuse for the sake of joining an institution.

But all this discussion begs the questions: What about the demeaning practices of our own government’s military? What about the demeaning hierarchical practices of our nation’s medical residency institutions? Both use sleep deprivation and power plays to initiate new inductees into the institution. Survivors/codependents get to stay, rebels get booted.

I suppose it is only a matter of time before someone in these organizations refuses to put up with the hazing there too and calls them out on their abuse. Although I like to think people join such organizations in part because they have a lot of energy and they’d like to see someone else direct that energy for a while. They’ d like to be exposed to someone else’s discipline. It gives them a sense of structure and meaning that they otherwise have a hard time cultivating. It doesn’t make it right, though.