When Hazing Isn't Hazing: NJ Scandal Highlights Bigger Issue

In a case that's put hazing in the national spotlight, seven New Jersey football players have been charged with sex crimes against other players.

When Hazing Isn't Hazing: NJ Scandal Highlights Bigger Issue / Mark R. Sullivan

The superintendent of Sayreville War Memorial High School says hazing at the hands of the school’s football players was so bad, he was left with no choice but to call off the team’s entire season. It’s a precedent-setting move in New Jersey that has triggered a national debate over hazing.

Seven members of the Sayreville team have been charged with sex crimes. Authorities say those team members at various times held other players against their will and inappropriately touched them. (Video via News 12 New Jersey

SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT RICHARD LABBE VIA WTKR: “At a level in which the players knew, tolerated and in general accepted.”

To label the allegations as hazing episodes is perhaps misleading, when in reality, what these players are accused of is criminal.

And they’re far from isolated incidents. In state after state we’ve seen similar horror stories involving high school athletes.

After a 13-year-old boy at a Colorado high school wrestling tournament was bound with duct tape, hung upside down, and sodomized with a pencil, Bloomberg had this to say: “High-school hazing and bullying used to involve name-calling, towel-snapping and stuffing boys into lockers. Now, boys sexually abusing other boys is part of the ritual.”  

Exact numbers of hazing incidents are hard to come by but this 2008 study from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence estimated 26 percent of high school boys experience some form of sexual assaut from their peers.

Those numbers could be much higher. Speaking to the Asbury Park Press, the director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, described statistics that rely on self-reporting as “essentially fake.”

Experts say the New Jersey allegations point to a systemic problem among male athletes and the adults who dismiss hazing as a rite of passage.

ESPN: “This is often what happens in American sports at every level, including high school. If you win and you're good you're somehow entitled to create a system that's beyond reach of the rules until it isn't.”

Perhaps this quote a senior at Sayreville High gave to Sports Illustrated best sums up high school hazing culture: “It happens at all the schools, it’s just that it happened to leak out.”

New Jersey is one of 44 states with some form of an anti-hazing law. The seven football players are currently in custody pending a court decision on whether they'll be released to their families or kept in juvenile detention.