Hazing at Delaware raises more questions

Once again, photos of hazing by members of an intercollegiate athletic team have become the focus of a school investigation. According to an article in the Wilmington News Journal (link here), photos from an August 2005 party hosted by members of the University of Deleware men’s soccer team displayed shirtless freshman players wearing outfits resembling diapers fastened with duct tape. The photos, published on the Internet, also reportedly showed players with what appeared to be alcoholic beverages.

UD officials characterize the case as hazing, and cited a 1999 Alfred University study that defined hazing as “any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.” The university’s office of judicial affairs is investigating the matter, with suspensions possible.

The relevation caps a summer with many other publicized cases in college athletics where photos involving hazing were published on the Internet, including Northwestern University’s women’s soccer team. That team has since been suspended, and its coach has resigned.

The paper cited the Alfred University study with data which demonstrated that hazing is commonplace among NCAA athletes. Of 325,000 NCAA student-athletes in 1998-99, more than 250,000 experienced some form of hazing, the survey determined.

Ian Hennessy, the coach of the UD men’s soccer team, told the paper the incident has provided an additional forum in which to stress a stronger value system. “It cut at many different levels, not just the team level and university level, but the kids. … I feel bad for them,” Hennessy said. “In this day and age, there’s no escaping the Internet and, for years to come, it could haunt them. Probably the greatest shame for me is they’re good kids and they made a silly decision. … There are very, very strong life lessons to be learned here. I think it’s a good topic that you can open things up and say, ‘Listen, let’s grow from this, let’s learn from this, let’s have a discussion about why this was not a good idea, and move on.’ “

Opposing viewpoints raise questions on how the NCAA raises awareness to reduce hazing among athletic teams. Norm Pollard, an Alfred official who helped with the university’s study, told the paper the NCAA has been instrumental in helping to raise awareness of hazing. According to Pollard, potential victims have become less tolerant of hazing and more willing to speak up. However, William Schut, of ncaahazing.com and a former University at Albany assistant athletic director for NCAA compliance, believes the NCAA doesn’t do enough to curb hazing. “We’re trying to force the NCAA to act on hazing, which they’re not doing,” Schut told the paper. “There’s nothing in any NCAA legislation that even mentions hazing. Their view is that hazing is an institutional issue.”