Hazing – A misguided, outdated and barbaric ritual

October 27, 2011

And yet again, another incident of hazing in Canadian sport. This time, it occurred on a Manitoba junior hockey team and thankfully the Manitoba Junior Hockey League has acted swiftly and sternly in response… Or have they?

The nature of the hazing ritual in this instance is not clear. However, what is clear is that it involved players ranging in age from 15 to 20, including the captain of the team, and coaches. While the head coach was apparently unaware of the hazing incident, the league is rightfully holding him accountable for the actions of his assistants and his players.

Hazing is wrong, plain and simple, and has no place in sport. It is often purported to be a rite of initiation for rookies or a team bonding practice. What it is, in fact, is team sanctioned bullying. It is meant to degrade an individual and to force them to do things that are typically humiliating, often illegal and usually dangerous.  Unfortunately, it is all in the name of team bonding, establishing the pecking order on the team and ensuring that the player is willing to do anything and everything for the team. All of which is to say, it is about demanding that the individual subjected to the hazing abandon all moral judgment and submit to the demands of their teammates.

Team bonding and team building are important elements to the success of any sports team. And there are many acceptable and highly effective ways to achieve these two objectives – hazing is not one of them. Hazing rituals are not effective in achieving the goals they are held out to be in pursuit of and they are always morally – and often legally – wrong (the RCMP has opened an investigation into the incident in Manitoba).

So, why do they continue to occur in sport? Like most undesirable behaviours that continue in sport, we have not sent a loud, clear and unambiguous message to our coaches and players that hazing is wrong and will not be tolerated. Let’s look at the most recent case in point.

The Manitoba junior hockey team in question was fined $5,000 and 16 players and two coaches were suspended for varying amounts of games, with the presumably worst offenders receiving five-game suspensions. As mentioned, the head coach, who apparently knew nothing about the incident, has received a two-game suspension. Because 16 players from the team were involved, the team is being allowed to have three players at a time serve their suspensions so games won’t be forfeited – a nice, tidy solution that on the surface might appear to send all the right messages. But, if we are truly going to eradicate this barbaric practice from sport, I think we need to do more.

First, all teams, in all sports, should have an anti-hazing policy that strictly prohibits the practice in any form. The policy should have a clear set of procedures for determining when the policy has been violated, a set of procedures that are fair, transparent and that ensure due process, and sanctions clearly identified for those convicted of having violated the policy. Second, I would think, at a minimum, if we are serious about ridding sport of hazing, the sanction for a first offence should be ineligibility to play on that team, in that league for a period of one year. This kind of sanction says very clearly that hazing is wrong and will not be tolerated on our team or in our league. How many teams and leagues do you think have such a policy? I’m betting zero to none. So, don’t be surprised when we read about the next hazing incident.