Ten years ago, a sports hazing story broke at my old high school in Luzerne County and within 24 hours, it was national news.
Four varsity football players first applied Icy Hot, an ointment used to relieve muscle pain, on the head and face of their 15-year-old target and then taped his hands, head and feet to a wheeled chair. They then attempted to push him across a hallway and into an adjacent gymnasium but the chair hit the threshold of a door, sending the teen crashing to the floor face-first.
He suffered a fractured jaw, a laceration that required nine stitches and a bruised shoulder and elbow. His jaw had to be wired shut for six weeks.
Simple assault charges were filed against the four student-athletes accused in the hazing incident, which embarrassed the school.
Pennsylvania has seen its share of hazing incidents. Just a year after the 2003 incident rocked my old high school, another case involving the Warwick High School swimming team in Lancaster County resulted in five being dismissed from the team.
The York College men's wrestling team recently was suspended and investigated for hazing incidents that involved physical assault. Two years ago, Franklin & Marshall's women's lacrosse team found itself embroiled in an incident that resulted in several player suspensions and the firing of the head coach and two assistant coaches.
Six years ago three members of the women's lacrosse team at Millersville University were suspended after photos of a team party surfaced on a national anti-hazing website.
On the national level, the recent suspension of Miami Dolphins' offensive lineman Richie Incognito, who is accused of bullying a teammate, has sparked new debate over hazing and bullying in sports locker rooms. In this case, Incognito's allegedly sent text messages and left voice mails containing racial slurs for teammate Jonathan Martin. Martin then left the team because of emotional issues related to the alleged bullying remarks.
An attorney has been appointed by the NFL to conduct an independent investigation of the Dolphins' conduct in the workplace.
Mike Williams, who fields a consistent winning football program at Manheim Central High School, doesn't tolerate hazing and bullying and his proactive approach is one to be admired. About 20 years ago, Williams stopped the practice of leaving Lancaster County for its preseason camp so he and his coaching staff could better monitor players' interactions in the locker room.
Williams admits that there is a "pecking order" regarding upper and lower classmen on his teams. This might require sophomores on the varsity team being asked to clean up practice equipment or carry a teammate's tray during a preseason meal in the cafeteria. But none of the activity approaches what would be considered hazing or bullying.
Norm Pollard, one of the chief researchers of a study done on hazing by Alfred University, determined that hazing humiliates and it degrades the intended victim and therefore is not going to create what people are hoping to accomplish.
Whether on a high school or college level, the core values are instilled and flow down from the top of any program. Pennsylvania is fortunate to have coaches like Mike Williams around who know how to win the right way and can instill that positive attitude in young players.
By Jim Zbick