There’s a tragedy that’s still unfolding in Sayreville, New Jersey, and unfortunately its nature comes as no surprise. This fall has seen domestic violence perpetrated by Ray Rice and an admitted “whupping” administered by Adrian Peterson to his four-year-old son, preceded by countless instances of college professors complaining (and litigating) over received threats, coercion and actual job loss to force them to award passing grades to football players so that they can remain eligible to play.
In the event you’re not familiar with the situation, seven high school varsity football players between the ages of 15 and 17 have variously been charged with aggravated sexual assault and other crimes allegedly perpetrated on several members of the freshman football team. As reported at nj.com , the alleged behavior consisted of attacks on freshmen in the locker room that began with a wolf howl, signaling a dowsing of lights, followed by forcibly pinning the boy to the floor, then standing him up and—forgive the graphic description—a varsity player’s shoving a finger into the victim’s rectum and then (same finger) into the victim’s mouth. While this was going on, one or two varsity players stood lookout and prevented anyone from entering or leaving the locker room. As of this writing, four such incidents have been identified; I have no doubt more freshmen will be coming forward, and the seven varsity players will most likely be implicating others, particularly if the county prosecutor seeks to try them as adults.
The reveal began in murky fashion. The Sayreville Superintendent of Schools announced at a press conference that all football games were cancelled for the coming weekend. He spoke of serious allegations concerning the safety of the players, but refused to be more specific, thus raising more questions than answers. He also spoke of the possibility of cancelling the rest of the season, which angered many parents. Even this former band nerd, who loathed every pep rally she was forced to play for, was taken aback, given the potential loss of college scholarships if the players could not be assessed by scouts during the games remaining on the schedule. However, all became clear two days later when a parent whose son had been the victim of one of these attacks provided details to nj.com under cover of anonymity. In short order the alleged perpetrators were taken into custody and charged as juveniles.
Where to begin?
With the perpetrators who, despite all that’s been in the news, apparently can’t comprehend that physically violating another human being is wrong, not to mention a crime?
With their parents, though these young men are certainly old enough to bear responsibility for their own choices?
With the coaches, who evidently failed to supervise the locker room, and, more importantly, to teach the young men in their care that being a member of the team is in no way consent to assault?
With those adult residents of the town who treat the varsity football team like demigods, parade around in Sayreville Bomber jackets, and so bitterly reacted to the cancellation of the season that nj.com’s sources requested anonymity for fear of reprisals?
But I have a particular bone to pick with the media which all so often stops short by referring to incidents such as this as “hazing.” You want to stop outrages such as this? Then drop that word and call it what it is—in this case, rape. And the next time some college freshman dies of alcohol poisoning in the house of the fraternity he’s pledging, call it aggravated assault. Because labelling it as hazing connotes “it’s only” behavior, i.e., “Boys will be boys.” It’s dishonest reporting that perpetuates the belief that the victim, by participating in sports or seeking to pledge, is more or less asking for whatever may come his way, including the brutality of his own teammates or fraternity brothers. While I’m well aware that the legal definition of hazing prevents consent from being a defense, this is one instance where the law and public perception sharply depart company.
The Sayreville story is far from over. In fact each day brings a new outrage. This morning I heard on news radio that defense counsel for one of the young men charged is insisting that her client’s suspension from school be lifted to enable him to return to the classroom. “He’s owed an education,” she reportedly stated. Certainly. But not on school grounds where the county prosecutor’s investigation is on-going, not to mention the possibility of his encountering his freshman victims.
Common sense, anyone?