Hazing an Ongoing Issue for Youth Sports

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Hazing is back in the news as four Maryland teenagers face potential life sentences in a case involving sexual assault by football players on younger teammates. The incident took place in a locker room before practice on Halloween. The incident mirrors those which have occurred across the country for at least dozens of years, though rarely have these situations resulted in criminal charges.

New York State has struggled with hazing incidents overs the years, to such an extent that Governor Cuomo signed anti-hazing legislation in August, 2018 in response to the death of a student at Baruch College five years earlier. Deaths at Fraternity events were a much too regular occurrence, and intervening to lessen the risks of hazing deaths was an important first step to combating these nightmare scenarios.

Unfortunately the law was specific, targeting certain physical behaviors and neglecting more cultural problems, where peer pressure and other emotional techniques are used to bully young people into dangerous activities. There are few laws to protect a child from many dangerous hazing activities, because these activities appear to involve consent from the person being hazed.

Examples of dangerous hazing behaviors that are not targeted by most anti-hazing laws include:

  • Bullying or manipulating a teammate into continuing to play a sport such as football while injured, which puts the young person at risk of more serious injury
  • Use of significant amounts of alcohol as a bonding ritual
  • Pressure to participate in dangerous behaviors or stunts to be a full member of a team

In a Fraternity situation determining who is responsible for dangerous behaviors such as this can be difficult, as the people involved are almost all legally adults. In youth sports situations it is much clearer. Coaches should be in constant supervision of their players, particularly in locker rooms or other areas where many of these incidents have occurred.

If your child suffered an injury or accident due to negligent supervision by a school or sports program, holding the entity responsible for its negligence is important. Though lawmakers may eventually follow through and create a criminal framework for pursuing these organizations, civil liability is an option now to hold people accountable.