The Many Cases Against Hazing

This is Bull Shit too.

Let’s try to be honest here.  Hazing has been a part of sports teams and general culture for much longer than I have been alive.  I’m 31 years old and I’ve never known a day or time when hazing wasn’t at least a small part of my life’s general experiences.  From ribbing the new kid at school to giving the new guy the dirty work, hazing is part of our lives.  That doesn’t make it right, but it is important to note its relevance right at the beginning because I believe we often forget just how pervasive hazing can be in our society, and how hard it can be to root out.

I bring this topic up because of the recent death of a student at Florida A&M, which may be linked to a band hazing incident on a team bus, and because lacrosse season is just around the corner.  If there is a time to talk about hazing it is always, so now is as good a time as any.

I’ve met hundreds or thousands of lacrosse players over the years, and while I haven’t discussed hazing with all of them, the topic has come up a number of times.  I’ve heard stories that were clearly hazing and others that I’m still not so sure on.  The range of tales is quite large and varies from the unspeakable to simply making freshman carry the ball buckets.  I’m not going to get into a lot of specifics here, but in every single case, I don’t think it actually helped a team succeed.  In fact, I can’t think of a single hazing ritual that would truly make a team better.  Maybe the team would be easier to manage at some level, but that doesn’t always translate to greater success.

There are really a number of reasons and cases against hazing.  Let’s dig in.

The first case against hazing is the most simple, and factually undeniable. Someone could be seriously hurt, or even worse, die.  Hazing involving physical abuse, alcohol, drugs, dangerous tasks, etc. all bear immediate safety risks.  You don’t want someone’s injury or death on your hands for the sake of “team building”, do you?  That was a rhetorical question.  You don’t.  But the risk doesn’t end there, because hazing of the mental sort can be dangerous too.  Driving a teammate to tears isn’t fun or “paying dues”, it’s mean, and it could lead to a dangerous reaction, possibly even suicide.  We need to be looking after our teammates, not hurting them.  Hard to argue with that.

The second major case against hazing is equally simple.  Even if no one gets hurt, if you get caught hazing kids on your team, you will be in some sort of trouble… probably big trouble.  Many schools will flat out cancel a team’s season and suspend people if hazing is going down, and I think that is the right decision.  The schools face a ton of liability if they do nothing, and kids simply need to learn that if they break the rules, they will have to face the consequences.  There are always those kids on the team that weren’t involved who suffer from the cancellation of an entire season, but it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure a “team” is functioning correctly, so sitting back and doing nothing about ongoing hazing simply isn’t enough.

After hearing case 1 and case 2, case 3 probably isn’t required, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.

Hazing won’t make you a better team.

It just won’t.  I know kids who went along with hazing, but for the most part, they weren’t happy about it.  I got my head shaved as a freshman and I went along with it willingly.  I let it happen, and was sure I wouldn’t think twice about it after the fact.  Boy, was I wrong.  Up until that time, I had been feeling like a member of the team more and more.  I was loving lacrosse, and I was loving life.  But then I had to shave my head.  A haircut wasn’t the problem.  I’d had short hair for years and might have shaved my head anyway… but it wasn’t my choice to do so, and I realized it simply had nothing to do with lacrosse.

I didn’t mind carrying ball buckets.  That was part of the deal at practice.  I worked my ass off because I liked it.  And I didn’t talk back or act like I deserved a spot.  So why did I need to be given a haircut?  The incident was so minor that I didn’t even think about it as it happened… but deep down, it pissed me off a little bit.  It was older guys picking on younger guys because they were younger, and it made me less of a believer.  It made me less willing to listen to the captains and older players.  It made me care just a little less.

The scent was unmistakable: It was bull shit.

This is Bull Shit too.

A couple of years later some other kids, smarter than me, just said “Um, no, you’re not shaving our heads.  Period”.  And that was that.  Probably the best thing that ever happened…

Now not everyone I’ve talked to shares my feelings.  Some of the guys buy in, and say it’s no big deal, and all part of the game.  But it simply doesn’t have to be.  Do you have some loudmouth freshman on the team who thinks he’s too cool for school?  Well, guess what?  It’s the coaches’ job to reign him in, not the older players.  If there were a senior loudmouth, would the sophomores and juniors tie him down and shave his head?  NO.  So it definitely doesn’t work the other way where older players prey on younger players.  And that’s really kind of creepy when you think about it.  I haze you because I care about the team.  That’s a Sandusky-esque piece of logic.

I’ve also heard from a number of people that hazing is important because it creates a top down chain of command and respect, but as I illustrated in my story above about seemingly innocuous head shaving, it simply doesn’t.  It creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation at some level, and this can breed mistrust and resentment.  There are probably the last feelings you want players to feel.

If discipline and teamwork are what’s needed to be successful, hazing is used to cut corners in trying to achieve this.  It is rationalized that since it has been going on for so long, it must be effective, or at least acceptable, at some level, but I would argue that we’ve just been doing it wrong for too long to know another way.  True cultural change within a team probably has to start at the top, with the coach.  I say this because captains and players change every year, but coaches stay more constant.  Plus they are the only ones who can be fired.  Since the coach is the one leading the team, he should also be the one to lead against hazing, especially since it’s so counter-productive, and seems to work in contrast to any coach’s goals.

If the coach sets out the expectation that hazing won’t be tolerated, it’s a start.  But the coaches must also take their preaching to heart, and practice it.  For example, freshman shouldn’t be required to carry the ball buckets out to the field, it should be the first people out to the field.  You going out early?  Be a good guy and bring the ball buckets with you.  It’s the end of practice and time to round up the balls?  The whole team does it.  Want to shave heads to start the season or get ready for playoffs?  Well, everyone does it then, and not just the freshman.  That is what a team is about.  It is simple stuff like that which can show players the right path and enable a coach to truly lead by example.  Team building is good, team power brokering is not.

Now I know that there are probably still some people out there saying to themselves, “CW just doesn’t get it” or “hazing creates a good team dynamic and keeps egos in check” or “CW is soft”, or even “back in my day…” but let me tell you, a victory through hazing is a hollow one, and it will come back to bite you in the end.  It’s intrinsically faulty and counter-productive, and if you rely on it, you’ve already admitted defeat.

Hazing is used by people who lack confidence and the ability to lead and inspire.  It is used as a basis for fear and subjugation and will never reap the full potential of any individual or team.  I’ve had a lot of bosses and coaches in my day, and the ones who inspired and led by example were usually the most successful.  Those that relied on fear or intimidation were usually middle management, wildly inefficient, or if they were coaches, they didn’t last long in their positions, or see much success on the field.

Lacrosse leads the way in college graduation rates and a number of other positive categories, and I think it’s high time we add hazing to our focus, and start the sports revolution ourselves, one more time.


  1. i completely agree with you about hazing but i have heard of events that truly harmed no one and only consisted of the new players on the team to attempt to work together to find a brick. I agree with the sentiment about alcohol and other harmful based hazing but i feel like the rules today don’t allow anything that could be harmless or even not actually hazing to be banned.  

  2. Hazing and team building are two different things, and you hit them both on the head.  Someone forcing me to do something (against my will or not) doesn’t ever lead me to gain more respect for them, often cases it results in less.  As you said, hazing as a “team building” exercise is absolute turdfarts.  Instead of forcing the younger guys to do something dumb as “team building”, go out in the community and work on a public works project as a team.  Anythign along those lines are real team building, working together towards a common goal, and together realizing what a true team can accomplish.

  3. I’m shocked and saddened by the tragedy at Florida A&M. My prayers and thoughts go out to the family of Robert Champion.

    Personally I think this article is a bit much. There is a difference between ‘freshmen duties’ (bringing the ball bucket, cones, whiteboard, etc to practice) and hazing. I do believe in paying your dues as a Freshman. I don’t think that includes being mentally and physically tortured, but I think it is reasonable to require freshman to have these additional duties. 

    As a freshman if you become suicidal over taking the ball bucket to practice, what are you going to do later in life when you boss makes you work overtime during your first year with the company? Freshman have to earn their spot, and earning it entails hard work and additional duties. There is an increasing sense of entitlement and softness growing in America. These are the type of people that probably support every kid getting a trophy or outlawing dodgeball in grade school.

    I agree with you that hazing is wrong, but please don’t lump whatever horrible acts produced the death of Mr. Champion and freshman duties in the same category. 

    • What does a freshman earning his spot through merit on the lax field have to do with carrying ball buckets or being a slave to those deemed better to do their class seniority?  The entitled become the upperclassmen due only to seniority and not merit.

  4. My problem with the hazing issue is that athletes are held to a different standard than non-athletes are when dealing with interactions between members of a group that are heterogeneous in their class-year composition. This can lead to schools unjustly identifying events or actions as hazing simply because they occur with athletes. Conversely, groups that are not varsity teams are given far greater latitude in that no one considers their actions improper despite the fact that if a varsity team did what they did, they would unquestionably be accused of hazing. In my opinion, we are so hypersensitive to hazing that we tend to go too far in our attempts to eliminate it.

    I agree that portraying hazing as a necessary evil of team-building is not only inaccurate but detracts from what it really takes to build a cohesive group. Admittedly, every team needs a hierarchy that allows certain team leaders to dictate how the team should be run, but such a culture should be developed through mutual respect. While establishing such a mutual respect is not an instantaneous process, attempting to use hazing as a shortcut to this end is lazy and just as likely to backfire on the team as it is to succeed. That said, bringing out the balls, setting up the goals and handling some of the little things around the team are perfectly acceptable tasks to assign to freshmen because it helps to teach the freshmen the importance of taking care of the little things and gives them a sense of responsibility. Personally, I think I benefited from having to do these kind of things as a freshman and would encourage the freshmen out there to embrace these kinds of tasks. A team relies on everyone to fill a certain role and completing one of these tasks can certainly be part of that role.

  5. As captain of my team last year, I took the opportunity to do some extracurricular team building that turned quickly into hazing. I feel terrible for the events that transpired, still getting grief for it to this day. All I wanted was to create the tightly knit community in my team that I never experienced as an underclassman. I was very fortunate no one got seriously hurt nor did the school take any action as this hazing incident was both unprecidented and the school doesn’t really support the team to begin with. Of course now I never subject any player to anything I don’t already contribute to, as in taking goals out and managing equipment, and encourage and support the team as much as I can, trying to be a positive and inspirational leader.

    Looking back, I would have expected our team to fall divided and distant under the frustration of a disappointing season, yet I remain good friends with the entire team and among those hazed even moreso from what I have seen. Perhaps there could have been some silver lining in all this?

  6. Frequently hazing isn’t meted out equally. It all depends on team dynamics, but often it isn’t the studs that get the worse treatment, its the bubble or lower end player that has potential. Typically it has overtones from the broader social context, than the team specific context. More succinctly, the more popular kids are less likely to get hazed than the less popular kids.

  7. You write this article like it’s news. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why anyone would let themselves be hazed. When I was a teen no one and I mean NO ONE told me what to do or when but my Mother and myself.  I had no desire to belong to a group, but rather enjoyed being a total individual. There are deep psychological issues on both sides. Your points are all true especially the ‘chain of respect’  LOL what a laugh. If somebody wants respect let them earn it by showing respect. I also think there is an erotic aspect to hazing which again, goes very deep. If anyone even suggested I should be hazed I’d laugh at them. It’s pure lunacy. Sadly, police forces and the military also subscribe to this insanity