Have you heard about the Sayreville, New Jersey high school football team? The school superintendent suspended their entire season after learning of hazing incidents in the team locker room. Seven teens were arrested and charged with participating in hazing rituals that allegedly included raping freshman players.
What is at stake here?
Considering each teen's future, what's the potential lasting impact of this type of behavior? Some will say, “Boys will be boys, what’s the big deal?” Others will say this isn’t just hazing, but outright abuse.
After the season’s cancellation, many parents complained that this was hurting their child’s potential scholarship opportunities, that it was unfair to punish the entire team for the actions of a few, and that perhaps the superintendent’s reaction was too harsh.
What About Accountability?
The alleged assault took place in the locker room with the entire team present. If this is the case, who should we hold accountable - actual participants, silent witnesses, or both?
You might remember a 2012 incident in Steubenville, Ohio involving two stellar athletes on the high school football team. Both were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl and sentenced to time behind bars. As in the Sayreville incident, witnesses did nothing to stop the rape.
When the victim’s parents pressed charges, her family received threats and statements were made such as, “She was asking for it.” One of the boys pleaded with the victim not to press charges because it would ruin his football career.
People literally spend millions of dollars on anti-bullying and abuse prevention campaigns targeting teens. They even tell young people this behavior is unacceptable and if you see something, say something.
Unfortunately, Sayreville and Steubenville are not the only two places in the country where incidents like this have taken place, and the parents’ response to these situations is troubling. They seemed more concerned about the football season than the potential lifelong impact of this situation for everyone involved. Some might argue that there has been a cultural departure from having an ethical sense of right and wrong.
Choices Have Consequences
One could understand teens complaining about the punishment being too harsh because the judgment/decision-making part of their brain doesn't fully develop until the mid-20s. It's more difficult to understand, however, parents who don’t see the need to hold their children accountable. If your teen had held down and raped someone as part of a football team initiation, what would you want to happen?
Kudos to the teens brave enough to say something! Clearly, we can talk with and help teens understand that stopping someone from taking advantage of another person is not “ratting them out.” It is the right thing to do.
Teaching teens about sexual assault and what to do if they witness someone taking advantage of another person is absolutely vital. Lives are much different as a result of the Sayreville and Steubenville situations, and others. Parents cannot sit back and believe that this is all just part of growing up. There's just too much at stake for our young people.