Hazing: Subjection to harassment or ridicule.
Bullying: To be loudly arrogant and overbearing.
Assault: An unlawful physical attack upon another.
Rarely have I received as much feedback about an article than when we published a story last week about a group of incoming freshmen caught on the wrong side of a bully’s paddle.
Dozens of readers were thankful we reported the story, even if it meant using anonymous sources to get the truth out. What caught me off guard was the number of tweets and texts that found their way to my computer screen minimizing what happened.
The messages came from current and past athletes. Some said ritualistic paddlings aren’t a big deal, others defiantly expressed their desire to continue it. A few current athletes even joked between one another about hazing the parents who rallied at the Douglas Bridge on Friday. Whether coincidence or not, someone driving by waving a paddle out the window did just that.
Those who say this isn’t a story, or that student-athletes getting paddled by upperclassmen isn’t a big deal, haven’t paid enough attention.
In sports, there’s often a right of passage for newcomers, from high school to the pro level. In the NFL and NBA, that usually means carrying bags and buying the veteran players an exorbitantly expensive dinner. Sometimes, most often at the high school level, that right of passage is paddling (mature adults don’t spank teammates for amusement). The way it’s supposed to work is a player takes a licking from a senior and they’re done, welcomed to the group, and that’s that. End of story.
That’s not necessarily a story for a newspaper to divert much of its resources toward — but that’s not what happened last month, either.
Chasing down a group of incoming freshman at a bonfire on the last day of middle school, driving them to remote areas and then beating the group yellow and purple stepped into the realm of criminal activity. Any of you who think that’s hazing need to rethink things before you find yourself in the back of a police cruiser. Some parents may tolerate hazing and bullying to a certain degree, but when you treat their kids like bags of raw meat, you can be assured they won’t sit idly by. Everyone knows not to mess with a sow when cubs are around. The same rule applies to parents in fear of the children’s safety.
The bruises depicted in a photo shared with the Empire depicted acts of cruelty, plain and simple. A few individuals found sadistic amusement in what they were doing, and others, boys and girls alike, watched until a few realized they didn’t have the stomach after all and begged the paddlers to stop. Keep in mind, these kids weren’t teammates; some aren’t even going to the same high school.
For those who want to rationalize and normalize this sort of behavior, your moral compass needs recalibration. For current student-athletes exacerbating the situation with sophomoric texts and tweets, know that others are watching — and sharing — the things you write. You’re leaving a digital trail straight through the mud, and it may be a while before your names and reputations are clean again.
Charles L. Westmoreland