When I was a kid, I played on sports teams for the pure love of the sport. Whether it was hockey, basketball or soccer, the one thing that was always prevalent was the overall acceptance of each team member — our common goal was to work hard and have fun.
I would like to think this rings true with nearly every sports team that exists. However, there are a number of acts that prove this is not the case.
For example, hazing is a type of initiation involving harassment, abuse and humiliation, as a way for new members of teams and groups to be “accepted.” But worse, hazing is sometimes taken too far, where it becomes an act of assault.
We saw this when allegations of grotesque sexual assault by student-athletes at St. Michael’s College School recently came to light. Hearing the details of a violent hazing allegedly performed on a student made me feel sick. The fact that some alumni of the school are revealing this culture has persisted for years only increased my frustrations.
Charges have now been laid against several St. Michael’s students.
The courts will determine exactly what happened. But whatever the outcome of that process, we can categorically say that there is no reason for excessive hazing, let alone sexual assault, to occur in a locker room.
It seems this type of cultural insinuation is getting out of hand at an alarming rate. A Bloomberg news report from 2014 revealed that more than 40 U.S. high school boys were sodomized with foreign objects by teammates in over a dozen incidents reported that year. That compared to just three incidents 10 years prior.
Hazing shares some similar attributes to bullying. According to HazingPrevention.org, both bullying and hazing often have an identity-based motivation, involve an imbalance of power and become progressively worse over time if left unchecked.
It’s no wonder that many of the St. Michael’s alumni who have come forward say they are forever traumatized by what has been done to them. The act of hazing is a faulty test to be fully “accepted” onto a team. It can be dangerous, illegal and emotionally scarring.
At its core, sports are a physical activity with individuals or teams playing against one another for entertainment. Sports are supposed to be a fun pastime enjoyed by millions of people, not a platform to insinuate a toxic culture behind closed doors.
An athlete doesn’t need to go through a traumatizing experience because of “tradition.” Without question, athletes should be accepted for who they are as a person, and the skills they can provide to the team.
As someone who is passionate about sports, it always makes me angry when I hear stories like the ones coming out of St. Michael’s. It’s a cruel reminder that sports culture isn’t always about working hard and having fun.
Michael Mazzei is the sports editor and a video producer for the Ryersonian. You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelMazzei3.