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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hazing in sports just another form of bullying, and it has to stop

The recent hazing controversy involving Dalhousie (located in Nova Scotia, Canada) University women’s hockey team reminds us there is a long way to go before the issues of bullying are behind us.  “Hazing” is merely another form of bullying.  That it occurs in the often protected and "hush hush" world of sports makes it no more acceptable than any other kind of bullying.

The women’s hockey program at Dalhousie has been suspended.  News reports (including in the Globe and Mail) quoting university spokespersons suggest it was a very serious matter.  The university acted swiftly to launch an investigation when made aware of the issue.

Sadly, in the world of men and even boys’ youth/amateur sports, this type of behaviour is all too common. This notion of making newcomers to a team engage in certain activities to gain acceptance to the "club" was always indefensible and yet too often ignored by school or team officials.  How often have we heard the old adage, “boys will be boys” as though the behaviour was acceptable?  And this is part of the dreadful mentality that has allowed awful behavior to be passed off as socially acceptable for decades.

And it is just plain wrong—and always has been.

Why has it ever been “OK” for one person to intimidate another based on size, beliefs, whatever?  Why do “groups” get away with bullying others because an individual looks or acts differently than the “norm”?  That this kind of thinking has been unofficially embraced in the sports community is a tragedy.  It certainly is not a a good way to promote the values of  sport and belonging to a team- or a school.

Real "team play" has to do with respecting your teammates—and the opposition, for that matter—regardless of whether they look, act or talk the way you do or are “as good” a player as you are.  In fact, differences should be celebrated.

Forcing people to do something as a "lark" is never OK.  We’re not talking about helping a shy person come out of their shell. When discussing hazing, we are talking about about creating a threatening scenario where often frightened, coerced individuals feel they have to do things that go against their beliefs or that they are simply not comfortable with, in order to be “accepted” by teammates.  Why do some people feel they must make other individuals conform?  The fact is, it is morally bankrupt behaviour.

We’ve discussed this issue before here.  In fact, we recently mentioned a story that actually highlighted  an interesting—and positive—response to a case of bullying in a school in the United States.  School athletes were involved in providing a creative "solution" to a difficult circumstance.  Sadly, contrary to what popular opinion might be, it’s clear that even women’s sports are sometimes afflicted with this unfortunate phenomenon.

Sports ought to be fun, healthy, competitive and should strive to hold young people—and even professionals—to a high standard of behavior along the way.  Sports should, and often does, inspire youngsters and bring out the best in them.

These stories remind us, however, there are still vestiges of the bad old days out there.  And good for Dalhousie for taking a strong stand against one of its its own teams.

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