Many of the people in Sayreville – parents and students alike – don’t get it. There’s a lot of “it was just hazing” “it was no big deal” “why do you hate football?” “you ruined everything and we hate you” in response to the fact that reasonable people frown on sexual assault even when it’s football player seniors doing it to freshmen. The BBC takes a rather horrified look.
Four players would hold a victim on the floor while two were on lookout, one parent told NJ.com after their son confided in them. One player would signal the start of the process with a howl, then turn off the lights and assault the freshman.
Two victims interviewed by the New York Times, including one who said he was digitally penetrated from behind, said they were wearing football pants at the time and didn’t consider what happened to be that serious.
Stories of older members of the team pinning down freshmen team-mates and assaulting them in a dark locker room as others cheered initially shocked the community. But after superintendent of schools Richard Labbe cancelled the rest of the team’s season, many students and parents defended the programme and criticised what they saw as a punishment that extended to players who were not involved.
“If freshman thought we hated them before, we sure as hell hate them now,” one 16-year-old student wrote on Twitter shortly after the season was cancelled.
This is a school we’re talking about. A school. Not a professional football team but a school. A “football season” should be – at most – a recreational extra, not a core entitlement, let alone THE core entitlement. If it turns out the football team is fucked up, then it’s not a bad idea to suspend operations until things are improved. That’s not punishing anyone.
During a school board meeting, according to Sports Illustrated, dozens of players and parents protested against the decision to cancel the season.
“They were talking about a butt being grabbed,” one player’s mother, Madeline Thillet, said. “That’s about it. No one was hurt. No one died.”
That’s an extremely warped attitude. Bullying and assault should not be treated as acceptable provided no one died. Football shouldn’t be treated as more important than decent behavior.
Gary Phillips of the Journal News, a newspaper in the Lower Hudson River Valley of New York, says he has a problem with how many people have been referring to what happened as hazing at all. He writes that hazing is a part of team culture, but it is too often an excuse to bully or cause suffering.
What happened in Sayreville was not hazing, he says. What happened had nothing to do with initiation or building camaraderie.
“By calling sexual abuse hazing, society grants those perpetrators a free pass and downplays the brutality of their actions,” he writes. “What is actually a very serious crime is passed off as a ‘rite of passage’ ritual that went too far.”
Exactly. We all really really need to stop doing that. We need to stop normalizing abusive behavior by giving it fun playful names.
Michael Kasdan says there’s another word for what happened.
“It’s rape,” he writes for the Good Men Project. “Yes, it occurred as part of a football team hazing program, and it is boys acting against other boys, but – if the allegations are true – it is rape just the same.”
Kasdan says that what happened in Sayreville was abuse, with the sexual aspect being another way to assert dominance.
While the stories are disturbing, they are far from uncommon, says Robert Silverman of the Daily Beast. It’s a part of a larger issue across the country and at all levels of the sport.
He says that there is a direct connection between the stories in Sayreville, bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room, the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case and the Pennsylvania State University child sex abuse scandal. In all of these cases, the perpetrators had been told that they weren’t beholden to the regular rules that all other members of society have to follow.
And what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer, AND to the people who think it’s funny to dress up as Ray Rice for Halloween and drag around a blow-up doll dressed to look like Janay Palmer. This stuff is all connected and it’s all sick.