Saint Olaf College is a small but highly rated liberal arts college in Northfield, Minn. Athletically it is in the NCAA’s Division III but is more known for academic rigor than prowess in sports. Recently, though, Saint Olaf made some waves when school officials announced they had canceled the rest of the men’s baseball season because of hazing.
Not all of the details have been released regarding the exact nature of the hazing, but reports indicate that freshman players were forced to act in a subservient manner for upper classmen and that a significant amount of underage drinking occurred. A former player who has since left Saint Olaf shared stories of having been pressured to drink large quantities of alcohol, describe sexual exploits, and then call girls he mentioned while the team listened.
Hazing is fairly common in sports from high school to the pros. It’s an initiation right of sorts for incoming players (freshmen or rookies). When done well it feels like good-natured teasing from older siblings. Sometimes it means younger players carry equipment bags for older players or are forced to dress in goofy costumes in public. Sometimes they must stand on tables in a cafeteria and sing. Everyone gets a good laugh. But when hazing is done poorly, it’s bullying.
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As this happens, hazing becomes the opposite of what it was intended to be. A ritual of welcoming new players and jokingly reminding them “who’s in charge” becomes a wedge between older and younger players. Instead of a shared experience it becomes mutual trauma. All healthy teams have leaders and followers, but hazing creates “haves” and “have-nots” and can undermine leadership. After all, who respects bullies? What is presented as a “team building” experience actually erodes that very thing.
When a team culture devolves into a negative cycle like this, it won’t stop itself. The opposite will happen. It will accelerate unless someone takes a stand.
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