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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