News   Money   Entertainment   Kids   Family Check e-mail
United Rentals - Click Here!

Outside the Lines

Rites and Wrongs

Athlete hazing on the rise

Athletes call it leadership

A victim calls it abuse

Problems in youth hockey

States creating hazing laws


Sports hazing incidents since 1980

Message board: What do you think about athlete hazing?


 Outside the Lines
Do those being hazed have an option? Vermont Sen. Richard McCormack and activist Linda Murtie debate.
Standard | Cable Modem

 Outside the Lines
Attorney General William Sorrell says the University of Vermont hid behind the law.
Standard | Cable Modem

 Outside the Lines
Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell believes hazing is an issue similar to sexual assault.
wav: 52 k | Listen

 Outside the Lines
Troy Aikman says he is preparing for life after football with the same intensity.
wav: 135 k | Listen

This online series is a companion to the ESPN Outside the Lines television show that re-airs Saturday, April 22, at noon ET.

Tuesday, June 3
Laws get a workout
Tom Farrey

Imagine for a moment you're an athlete, and you've been hazed in what you believe is a degrading and possibly criminal manner.

Now what?

Your options for recourse actually are greater than ever before, due to a change in societal attitudes about behavior that once was considered the hands-off province of "boys will be boys." That's partly because girls -- or rather women -- more often are creating and enforcing the rules.

Legal facts
  • States without specific anti-hazing laws: Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, according to, a website that monitors legal developments in the area of hazing.

  • Hazing victims have used these claims in their lawsuits: assault (fear of harmful, offensive touching); battery (harmful, offensive touching); and negligence (failure to reasonably supervise employees and students, and failure to anticipate wrongful conduct of third parties).

  • Among the most significant settlements: A California school district paid $675,000 to a Rancho Bernardo High School baseball player who was sodomized with a broom handle in the locker room after a game.
  • "The climate of opinion has changed away from a kind of male standard of behavior to a more common or more female standard of behavior in which any activity that is directed at creating unpleasantness is not seen as acceptable," said Lionel Tiger, a Rutgers anthropologist. "Guys might see it as perfectly reasonable to give somebody a hard time."

    With more women joining state legislatures, 41 states have created specific laws against hazing in the past few decades, urged on by mothers such as Eileen Stevens, whose son, Chuck Stenzel, died in a hazing at Alfred (N.Y.) University.

    At the University of Vermont, the school president who cancelled the hockey season in January for hazing activities is a woman. In Utah, a hazing lawsuit involving a former high school football player, Brian Seamons, has been thrown out of court twice by a male judge, only to be reinstated twice by a female higher court judge, who lectured the male judge for not taking the lawsuit seriously.

    Even with women bringing a new perspective to the issue, though, the road to justice -- for all parties -- is laden with potholes.

    "These are not your usual assaults," said Hank Nuwer, a leading hazing authority.

    Consider the case of the Stevenson (Ill.) High School. Several upperclassmen on the football team last year blindfolded several sophomores, and after holding their shoulders down, tricked them into sitting up into the bare buttocks of the older players -- an exercise known as an "atomic situp."

    Few would argue that the initiation ritual was humiliating. But illegal?

    Prosecutors struggled with the case. The state of Illinois has a law against hazing, but -- as with many other states -- the law only applies if there is bodily harm. And there's certainly no federal law on the books that specifically speaks to hazing.

    In the end, the only charge that could be pinned on the defendants was a village ordinance, disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. The judge ordered small fines, community service and the writing of 300-word essays on respecting other students.

    Jail time for hazing crimes is rare even for the most serious events. For the death of Nicholas Haben, a Western Illinois University lacrosse player who drank too much alcohol during the team's annual initiation, the 12 veterans involved in the event were given community service.

    More effective at checking hazing behavior have been lawsuits, said Douglas E. Fierberg, a Washington D.C. attorney who specializes in hazing cases. At Vermont, where there is no specific state law against hazing, the school president took action against the team after one player, Corey Latullipe, sued the school on grounds that his civil rights had been violated.

    Schools often respond to a lawsuit from an athlete because the teams are directly supervised by coaches, Fierberg said.

    "You have educational employees in the middle of it," he said. "Some of these issues just don't come in (fraternity and sorority) entities. Schools get sued, but they're one further step from the equation" because Greek organizations are run by their own members.

    Coaches and administrators are deluding themselves when they argue that just because they were not present at an initiation cermony, they are not culpable, Fierberg said. For instance, in Ohio, where Fierberg is working with a high school wrestler who allegedly was prodded in the rectum with a broomstick, a school can defend its conduct if it was actively enforcing an anti-hazing policy.

    Simply having a policy is not enough, Fierberg said. The school must at the very least communicate that policy to coaches and players and ideally make efforts to root out potential abuses.

    "You can count on one hand the number of schools that in fact know that," Fierberg said.

    Anti-hazing activists liken their cause to that of sexual harassment a decade or two ago, when organizations and the courts were unsure of how to respond to and prevent problems. Like sexual harassment, evidence of damage to a victim often is hard to come by, since many hazing activities involve only psychological abuse -- the wearing of embarrassing clothes in public, or private displays of genitalia, or the enduring of screaming of team members.

    Moreover, hazing often is elective. Most initiates consider hazing an inevitable rite of passage onto their teams and an activity they begrudgingly -- although sometimes enthusiastically -- agree to participate in.

    Unlike other forms of assault, too, there is a reward for taking the punishment: The acceptance of team members.

    "Indoctrinating young people into an organization is a normal philosophy," said Bryan Sullivan, a Republican state senator who opposed Colorado's new anti-hazing statute last year on the grounds that existing laws cover criminal conduct. "I don't see any problem with young men going through a process some people see as hazing. I frankly view it as character-building.

    "Just last Sunday I was made to feel like I was eating someone's flesh and drinking someone's blood. It's called communion."

    Indeed, initiation in different forms exists throughout society. But those athletes who feel they have been violated can take heart that judges, states, schools and coaches are beginning to draw distinctions between Christian and criminal.

    Tom Farrey is a senior writer for and can be reached at

    Copyright ©2002 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site.