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Archive for February 25th, 2010

Why athletes haze: because they can

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In the case of alleged criminal hazing (including sexually related crimes) perpetrated by members of the Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team, you might wonder — why didn’t anybody start doing anything about it until a month after it happened on a bus home from a ballgame Jan. 22? And why didn’t the alleged victims themselves speak up, leaving it to a parent who happened to overhear something in the hall to start the investigative ball rolling?

The answer, like in any case of a child who is physically and sexually abused, is fear: fear that no one will believe them, or that if anybody does, in the end those who abused won’t end up paying the ol’ piper for what they’ve done.

For example, concurrent to the Carmel case under way, in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Feb. 24 Kent County prosecutor William Forsyth announced he would not file any criminal charges related to among the members of the West Catholic High School boys’ cross country team for activity awful enough for the school to disband the varsity. For another, the parents of a Franklinville, N.Y., wrestler suspended in a hazing incident — like the one in Carmel, taking place on a school bus on Jan. 22 — dismissing it as “boys will be boys.”

First, Grand Rapids. In a news release, Forsyth outlined the various troublesome activity by team members: poking teammates (clothed) in the “butt crack,” poking teammates in the area between the scrotum and the buttocks (“gobbling”), slapping teammates on the bare behind hard enough to leave a mark (“five starring’), teammates holding teammates down so they could be “gobbled” and “humped” by the others (the parts in quotes are real terms the prosecutor used in his release). Forsyth also said a team member, no pun intended, whizzed on another player’s leg (no word on whether he also told him it was raining). Forsyth said a dozen players were involved as perpetrators.

The conduct was severe enough that West Catholic High canned the cross country coach and reduced the team from varsity to club status so it could learn how to run together and keep their hands to themselves at the same time.

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It was so bad that Forsyth, who said he has seen his share of locker room “horseplay,” declared to the Grand Rapids Press that “someone needed to step in here.”

That someone, however, is not Forsyth. From his release:

After reviewing this matter, I have concluded, for a variety of reasons, that no criminal charges will be filed. At the outset, it is important to note that all of the students involved in these incidents were juveniles [under the age of 17] and that the administration of West Catholic High School has already taken action to address the allegations outlined in this complaint.

In regard to the so-called “gobbling” and “five starring” incidents, it appears that with varying degrees of culpability approximately twelve of the runners engaged in this type of activity. While some may have felt uncomfortable and others may have been taken advantage of, it is nonetheless apparent that, regardless of their motivation for having done so, nearly a dozen athletes participated. Determining who was involved and to what extent, however, has been hindered by the fact that at least two of the team members have refused to be interviewed and several others have been something less than forthcoming about what happened. While such unwanted “touching” is technically an assault and battery, this type of behavior [absent heretofore undisclosed information] does not merit criminal prosecution; particularly when, depending upon the incident, each of the participants could potentially be both a victim and a defendant. …

While [the activity was] inappropriate, offensive and admittedly criminal in nature, given the age of the offenders, their lack of criminal record and the isolated nature of the behavior [i.e. in the context of their participation on the cross country team], any punishment is best left to the administration of West Catholic High School.

On one level, it’s disgusting that Forsyth didn’t throw his prosecutorial weight around for this case. The line about the lack of criminal record seems a bit of a cop-out — hey, every offender has to start somewhere. The line about “the context of their participation on the cross country team” is especially galling. So when I ran cross country in high school, if I had “gobbled” someone or pissed on their leg, that would have been OK. However, I would suspect if I did the same outside my local Jewel-Osco to a retiree trying to grab a cart, in that context, I would have my ass thrown in jail.

However, Forsyth couldn’t do too much if the cross country team was dummying up on him, or if victims and perpetrators are in the same fetid pool. “It is a situation a prosecutor doesn’t even want to go near,” Forsyth told the Grand Rapids Press. ” The school can handle something like this better.”

It’s disappointing that no criminal charges are coming from criminal activity among the West Catholic boys’ cross country team, and no doubt it will have some kids thinking twice about speaking up if similar activity happens again. Forsyth has given the green light to “gobbling” and “five starring” to any team in Kent County, Mich.

At least prosecutors saw fit in Franklinville, N.Y., to charge a 19-year-old with second-degree harassment, and a 16-year-old (as a juvenile) with forcible touching and harassment for an incident in which a wrestling teammate was bound with a belt. And Franklinville Central High also suspended the head wrestling coach and two assistants.

But the attitude of parents of another wrestler suspended by the school (but not charged criminally) gives you an idea of the community resistance anyone speaking out about hazing will receive. Brian and Kelly Childs told the Olean Times-Herald they accept their son’s punishment. But…

“It wasn’t an act of viciousness. It was boys being boys. They were goofing off,” Kelly Childs said. “The boys weren’t doing anything to be mean.”

Oh, then let’s forget the whole thing, eh?

One would think that communities priding themselves on protecting their children would react swiftly and justly to any hazing, especially when it becomes criminal. But one would be wrong. And even when communities and schools try to do the right thing, there are always people wondering why they aren’t laughing along.

Hopefully, the hazing victims will have this explained to them in their future therapy.


Written by rkcookjr

February 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Sports hazing scandal brewing at my old high school

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My old high school and hometown, Carmel, Ind., has long cultivated for themselves an image of wealth, class, intelligence and sophistication, despite my type mingling with the hoi polloi, and despite the presence of new resident/former Hef spittle-cup holder Kendra Wilkinson Baskett. So for me, it’s hard to watch the linked video of the school superintendent, the high school principal and the police chief talking about a “bullying” incident involving Carmel basketball players — an incident that is being widely reported as a probable sexual assault — without imagining thought bubbles over their head that say, “Oh, shit.”

It’s not that the city’s reputation will be completely ruined by a police investigation into exactly what three senior players did to two freshman teammates on a 100-mile bus trip back from a game in Terre Haute. The preceding paragraph, however, does indicate the enormous schadenfreude being felt throughout the Indianapolis area over what could be an extremely revolting, disturbing incident — even the school has acknowledged something untoward happened, and now it’s a matter of finding out how untoward it was. (It appears to be untoward enough that one freshman had to go to the hospital, which prompted state child services to get involved.) And the feeling among many of those same people that Carmel, in its insistence that the investigation into the incident will take weeks, is trying to hide something to protect its image.

From an open letter from Fox 59 in Indianapolis, explaining why it’s been filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get information on the investigation. Emphasis is mine:

To be clear, this alleged incident happened more than a month ago — Friday, January 22nd. Despite four adults being on the school bus at the time, the school district maintains it did not know about the allegations until Tuesday, February 16th. We are now more than a week later — February 24th — and the school and police still maintain they can’t give basic, public information about what they are investigating happened on that school bus. Clearly, by the large response to FOX59 by phone and email, many of you are appalled by these explanations, and we are as well. We also understand your concerns about whether the correct course is really being followed by both the school district and police, considering several of the students involved are reportedly tied to prominent families in the community. I assure you that FOX59 News is taking a close look at every action the district and police are taking to make sure justice is served.

That local media are having to take a legal crowbar to get a copy of the mere police report sends a signal, true or not, that somebody has something to hide.

“Oh, shit.”

According to Fox 59, the alleged victims themselves did not initially report what happened on the bus. Instead, the station said, “a Carmel parent overheard rumors in the hallway.” (This sort of shame and fear of reporting is very common in hazing cases.)

The three basketball players — Scott Laskowski (son of former Indiana University player and announcer John Laskowski), Robert Kitzinger and Brandon Hoge — were suspended from school for five days for the bus incident — but not until Feb. 19. How do I know this, as well as their names? Because the Indianapolis Star noted that in a game story posted before the incident became a press conference-able police investigation.

Actually, a few days before that story, another Indianapolis television station, WISH, quoted principal John Williams as saying he heard of the incident around Feb. 10, and that he was satisifed everything was handled properly. Head basketball coach Mark Galloway issued his own statement to the station: “We talk about adversity throughout the season and this is a challenge. This is an opportunity for some kids and we have to keep our team goals in front of us.” Translation: under no circumstances am I going to let whatever happened fuck up our season.

“Oh, shit.”

Unfortunately for Galloway, not only is this incident already fucking up his season, but it’s going to fuck up his life, the lives of whatever coaches were on that bus, the lives of the coaches who allow seniors onto a freshman bus, the life of the principal who might end being seen as not riding herd enough on those coaches, the superintendent who… you get the idea. Meanwhile, the police department, in its obliqueness, is proving that in Carmel being roundabout is more than just existing as a circle at an intersection. All in all, the adults are looking a little too much like they’re hiding something.

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I’ll be the rouuuuuundabout.

What the adults don’t get, in their rush to protect the image of their fair town and boys, is that something happened on that bus, something that was not supposed to happen. Even if it was a few overdone noogies, any sort of hazing should not be tolerated and/or ignored by people who presumably should know better. Sheesh, coaches, what did you think was going on in the back of that bus, anyway? Didn’t you hear anything? Did the idea of checking to see what was going on enter into any of your minds?

And if it was in the realm of sexual assault, then a lot of people have a lot to answer for — and they’ll have a lot of people cheering for them to be exposed as more concerned about protecting Carmel’s image than its children.

“Oh, shit.”

FEB. 25 UPDATE: The city of Carmel released a heavily redacted police report, removing names of victims and reported perpetrators, and the exact nature of the reported assault. But there was a list of the offenses: battery/no minor injury, criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement.  I can’t find in the Indiana code what “battery/no minor injury” means. But depending on the serious, battery can be upgraded from misdemeanor to felony. Criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement are felonies no matter how you cut them. A conviction for criminal deviate conduct, a sex crime, gets you onto the Indiana sex offender registry.

FEB. 26 UPDATE: Fox59 is reporting that a fourth Carmel senior (there are five on the basketball team) is suspended for five days for attacking an underclassman in the boys’ locker room, and that he will miss tonight’s game along with the three other seniors caught up in the Jan. 22 incident. There also are reports that Carmel police have just launched an investigation into an alleged attack on a 17-year-old at the school Jan. 8. It is not known whether the two actions are related.

Oh, and tonight’s game is (was?) Senior Day. This should be awkward.

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