Opinion: Hazing a Dangerous Threat to Sports

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


Man, look at all the headlines from across the sports world this week that have nothing to do with stats and scores.

Protests. Outrage. Competing opinions about freedom of speech and freedom of response. College basketball and organized crime.

And that's all in just the last five days.

Amid all that, to my mind, the biggest threat to the future of team sports in America was a story out of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Let's go back a week when the details of the hazing event inside the Wheaton College football program about 18 months ago surfaced. Around these parts we were interested because Ben Pettway, a Baylor School graduate, allegedly was involved in the hazing of a teammate. Reportedly, the alleged victim needed surgery on both shoulders after being dragged and left duct-taped in a field.

We are aware of the Wheaton incident because we have a connection; like the Ooltewah basketball debacle in December 2015 or the Lookout Valley baseball nightmare before that.

Simply put, this dangerous hazing is happening at all levels, and it's happening far too often.

Hazing, in different forms, has been around for years. In 1987 I made the high school baseball team as a sophomore, and sophomores who made the varsity were dog-piled in a stagnant, 2-foot-deep mud puddle beyond the centerfield fence.

Punches and kicks frequently happened at the bottom of that pile.

That was 30 years ago, and sadly, like everything in our kids' lives, hazing appears to have grown and become more intense.

This intensification, when it comes to hazing, turns team sports into organized bullying. Dog piles have become kidnapping. Mud piles and dirty uniforms have, at least in the Ooltewah case, become pool cues and blood-soaked clothes.

And friends, if you think all this is just a rite of passage or boys being boys, then you may be part of the problem.

"I think leadership is enormous, obviously with what happened with the local kid," new UTC athletic director Mark Wharton told me last week. "You are dealing with 18- to 22-year-old men and women -- the most unpredictable age group in the world -- (and) you have to continue to educate and communicate with coaches, advisers, trainers, everyone and talk about what's right and wrong."

He's right, of course. And he would know.

Wharton came to Chattanooga from Penn State, where he was hired to help the athletic department navigate arguably the worst and most egregious scandal in college sports history, involving former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest and conviction for molesting children.

Wharton detailed his plans for building leadership -- a key word to combat this scourge -- and connection. He's a sharp dude, and I'm certain his intentions are noble and he will find success.

Wheaton College looked into the hazing last year and reportedly made the players involved do 50 hours of community service each and write an eight-page paper.

An eight-page paper? Really?

If reports are true, what happened sounds like it could be a crime. And a book report covers it?

In our view, the FBI should shut down that football program.

If we are spending millions of dollars on FBI guys looking into shoe deals in college basketball, and the president has enough time to monitor who is and who isn't standing before the kickoff of NFL games, then we need to move more resources and attention to end hazing in high school and college sports.

Zero tolerance should be the policy, along with automatic firing of any adults connected. Heck, laws could be toughened to classify hazing as a hate crime.

If that sounds harsh, well, how does being stuffed into a vehicle or being violated with a pool cue sound?

Team sports, in my view, rank just behind family as molders of character.

But if the lesson learned is hazing -- assault, crime, hatred, you name it -- then teams sports are no longer part of the solution.

They are, in fact, part of a very big problem.

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

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September 28, 2017


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