Rites of passage and rituals in sports can be very helpful in creating positive bonding experiences. These rituals can be pro-social and critical for positive youth development. However, it is when these rituals become violent, abusive, or humiliating that the rituals can be classified as hazing. A clear line on allowable behaviors must be established to protect both youths and the teams or organizations they wish to join. Negative interactions and peer pressures associated with hazing rituals that go wrong can scar and traumatize youth. And this hazing can build a cycle of repeated negative and harmful behaviors for both the victims and the perpetrators.
News stories about hazing in high school sports have recently been reported in several states. In Pennsylvania, high school students who are hazed by their peers do not have the same protections under the law as those that prohibit and punish hazing at the college level. As Pennsylvania youth, parents, and legislators are looking to provide greater protections against bullying, harassment, and intimidation, the issue of hazing in high school activities is also being revisited.
Hazing and Bullying
Legislation introduced by Representative Dan Truitt (Chester County) to address these harassment, intimidation, and bullying issues will die at the end of this legislative session, as no action was taken by the House Education Committee—despite the support of over 100 signatories across party lines. However, Representative Ron Marsico (Dauphin County) is seeking to change Pennsylvania law to criminalize hazing in schools and clubs for students aged 13 or older. “I think we can all agree that hazing is another form of bullying, which must be stopped,” Marsico said.
When this legislation is introduced in the new session of the Legislature, our leaders will have the opportunity to pass a bill addressing these issues. This is a critical moment for Pennsylvania to take a stand against bullying, harassment, and intimidation. Though it may seem disconnected to tie hazing and bullying together, it is pertinent to note that criminalizing severe action like hazing will likely help to implement policies that can reduce bullying overall and remind youth, and the adults who support them, about the real life consequences of harming their peers. What may previously have been deemed “kids being kids,” hazing can have lifelong and even fatal effects on our youth. It is time for Pennsylvanians to take a stand against abuse of our youth and to support our legislative leaders who are leading the charge.