Four players would hold a victim on the floor

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 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.


  1. Crimson Clupeidae says

    No one died. No one fucking died?!? That’s the standard now? Fuck these entitled assholes. I wouldn’t wish violence on anyone, but what’s it take to get a sense of perspective into that kind of mentality?

  2. Lonely Panda, e.s.l. says

    I hate the “boys being boys” excuse. In my middle school the locker room was for some reason considered outside civil society and my personal space was regularly violated. At one point I was shoved hard enough that I fell on my back and couldn’t breathe for a bit. I didn’t pass out, so it couldn’t have been too long, but long enough that it was very scarey to me. The P.E. teacher didn’t take any of the mayhem seriously at all.

    There was no camaraderie built, only distrust. 30 years later, my anxiety level still goes through the roof any time I have to be in any “male-only” spaces.

    On my first day of high school there was an announcement reminding us that hazing was prohibited. I had never heard this word “hazing” before, but I assumed that if I tried to be on my best behaviour I would probably avoid perpetrating any hazing. Retrospectively I realize that I was the target of hazing; at the time I just assumed it was the usual assortment of asses being asses.

  3. karmacat says

    I shouldn’t be surprised about the victim blaming. But the people who caused and end to the season were the players who assaulted other players. I am guessing the coach knew what was going on and therefore he should be blamed also. Maybe the people who are complaining should volunteer to be abused (not that I am advocating this). Because unless you are the one being assaulted, you don’t get to complain.

  4. John Horstman says

    Who are all of these people who think “hazing” i.e. physical, psychological, and social abuse is ever okay to begin with? It’s self-consciously a brainwashing technique, intended to take advantage of Stockholm Syndrome to instill a sense of shared identity through abuse. It’s disgusting, always, even when the abuse is relatively mild (unlike this case). I’m fairly aghast at the fact that so many people – even people who are outraged by this case – are attempting to classify “hazing” as ever being something other than abuse.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    Who are all of these people who think “hazing” i.e. physical, psychological, and social abuse is ever okay to begin with?

    They’re the parents of the kids doing the hazing. They’re the people who brought their kids up to be the kind of kids who do that. Kids who are, generally, richer, bigger, faster, stronger, better coordinated and better fed than average. Dumber, too, usually, but not necessarily – the very very worst jocks are the smart ones. Kids brought up that way by parents who in turn were brought up that way, because “it never did me any harm”. Entitled jerks and their indulgent parents. Cancelling the football season’s too good for them. Ebola is too good for them.

    And… breathe.

    When will educationalists put to bed the lie that team sports are good for children? The experience of team sport at school gave me a lifelong misanthropy that it took me until my twenties to even recognise, and yet everyone – teachers, parents, other kids parroted the mantra that it was “character-building”. Well, it built my character alright…

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