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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

 

By now, we should all have had enough of the hatred that becomes violence that becomes the unthinkable.

Yes, another teenage boy was assaulted by bullies and punks out of some sort of high school sports ritual.

Yes, the horror is staggering. This is about right and wrong, and worse, between good and evil.

Pure evil.

And this is now on all of us to stop it.

This is the second time in less than 24 months it's happened within 75 miles of the Walnut Street Bridge, for Pete's sake. Action must be taken.

Five Grundy County High School students — a freshman, three juniors and a senior — are accused of attempting to rape a 15-year-old freshman with the metal handle of a dust mop in the school's football field house sometime before 6 a.m. Central on Oct. 11.

This is beyond a local issue; we sadly hear about this all too often across the state, the region and the country. According to insidehazing.com, more than 90 percent of high school students are part of a school organization and 48 percent of them claim to have been involved in an hazing incident.

And to make matters worse, according to the website, 92 percent of high school students will not report hazing events, and of those kids, 59 percent are definitely aware of hazing and a staggering 21 percent are victims of hazing.

This has to stop. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now.

I wish we could make this a hate crime, but that's federal law and goodness knows the tape and tangles to expand the definition of that law.

As difficult as that change certainly would be, we need to start with the simplest of changes: Filing this under the "Boys will be boys" umbrella is every bit as problematic as these teenagers violating each other.

Let's make this priority. Let's make the heinous act that this is connected with the heinous results that should come with those guilty, and even those indifferent or unaware of it.

Any coach who has such a heinous assault occur under his watch should be immediately suspended, and if allegations and charges are proved to be true, they should be fired. We believe the Ooltewah High School coaches knew that some form of hazing was going on within their program, and we have to believe the Grundy County coaches did too.

Did they know it was ever going to get to this? Maybe, maybe not. But the presence of hazing, like sparks in the woods, only escalates in seriousness and sickness. It got here because those coaching staffs did not do enough on the front end to prevent it.

And that can't be excused.

Let's go further. Let's have every team sport send home a document to be signed by the player and a parent, and if possible both parents, that lets everyone know that hazing, if proven to be true, is a zero-tolerance incident that immediately leads to a permanent ban from all extracurricular activities and possible expulsion.

Let's go further than that. If it is found that hazing went to the level of assault, then the coaches are terminated and the kids are charged as adults; perhaps the parents could face charges, too.

And before anyone offers, "God, Greeson, you're trying to ruin these kids' lives for a little locker room stuff," well, put a sock in it.

Now and forever. How did we get here? Because what started as kids being stuffed in lockers or forced into the hall naked or whatever stunts that seemed somewhat harmless back in the day — we were dogpiled and punched and thrown into a stagnant mud puddle — has now escalated into a "can you top this?"

And maybe those students in Grundy County will face life-changing consequences because of these allegations. But, if proven true, that was their choice when they held that boy down and abused him.

Because his life likely has been changed too, and he had no choice.

We must choose to change that. Now.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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