An NCAA Athlete’s Duty: Reflecting On Hazing

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Photo Courtesy: Jim Agnew

By Will Manion, Swimming World College Intern

It’s fair to say American collegiate swimming has experienced one of its most trying years following a string of hazing scandals. I believe we have to evaluate our own decisions as we, NCAA athletes, commence into the fall semester.

“Athletic participation provides a wide range of developmental opportunities for young adults, physically and socially,” elaborated William and Mary Associate Director of Athletics Steve Cole. “The time management skills and organization, coupled with leadership roles, maintaining commitment to the team and self, are the foundations for future success. The demands and rigor of a swimming career amplify this development, thus providing positive role models on a campus.”

Conspicuous on Campus

The spotlight never flickers nor redirects from the college athletic community. College swimmers are icons and easily identifiable on campus. Our fin bags we carry between classes, our chlorine-bleached hair, and our copious amounts of swimming apparel distinctly separate us from the student body.

“What may seem as a ‘fun, humorous’ activity can lead to physical and mental harm that can be devastating to the individual,” Cole further discussed. “In addition, the negative impression with the public will have an irreversible impact on the program, the athletic department, and the institution.”

We need to set a high standard on our own campus and ensure our respective swim teams are promoted in a positive light throughout the community.

“Hazing is something that paints a team negatively and brings down individuals,” William and Mary swimmer Ryan Natal said. “As swimmers, it is our responsibility to make sure that our team develops and improves itself upon positive methods and experiences.”

Becoming An Unnecessary Expense

The college swimming operating budget at most universities is going to be greater than any income the team provides the college during the season. A fully-funded team with scholarships only creates a larger dent in the university’s funding pool.

Additional resources at the community level are essential to our entity’s existence. And a scholarship to one athlete may be what is essential from the family’s financial standpoint. The decision to terminate an unwieldy team comes much easier when said team is extracting funds that could benefit other sports, academic buildings, and various projects around campus.

Representing More Than Yourself

Another consideration we have to address is the responsibility of our peers and administrators within our respective institutions. There are laws in place, which directly interfere with a variety of textbook hazing examples. From a legal standpoint, university officials are required to investigate any reports of hazing. Again, there is a spotlight within our community and it is campus-wide. Our actions need to reflect positively on our coaching staff, our sport, and ourselves.

William and Mary head swim coach Matt Crispino takes a firm stand on the matter:

“There is also a subtle, but important distinction between what we call Hazing (big H) and hazing (little H). Clearly, things like forced alcohol consumption, public humiliation, and unwanted sexual acts constitute the most egregious form of hazing – capital H. But the smaller rites of passage — things that most of us would brush off as innocent adolescent fun — can be equally harmful. And just because it’s ‘voluntary’ doesn’t mean you, the hazers, are absolved from responsibility. And just because it’s funny doesn’t mean it’s not hazing. The bottom line is this: if you are planning an activity to welcome new members to your program, make sure every single aspect of that activity is safe and meaningful. If you can’t answer how it will provide substantive meaning and value to their ‘new member experience,’ then don’t do it. If you can’t be certain it will not involve drugs or alcohol, don’t do it. If you can’t be certain even one person might be uncomfortable or unhappy, don’t do it. If you wouldn’t do it if your parents or coaches witnessed it, then don’t do it. There are literally thousands of ways we can welcome new people to our teams that do not constitute hazing. Why we continue to pursue rituals that are harmful is somewhat baffling.”

Instead of promoting unsafe initiation practices, let us, as a collegiate swimming family agree to work on a localized volunteer project together as a means to come together and build a strong social foundation for the year to come.

I think I speak for just about every student-athlete when I say I want my team to be the fastest, sharpest, and friendliest group in the NCAA. Let’s lay the bricks early this fall semester to ensure each of our programs work to get there.

“Our school, the College of William & Mary, has been a leader in the hazing prevention effort,” Crispino said. “A campus-wide coalition was formed over five years ago consisting of stakeholders from all the important entities on campus — Greek life, athletics, residence life, campus recreation, campus police, faculty, and, of course, the dean of students. If your campus has a hazing prevention organization, and athletics are NOT part of it, then I encourage you to jump on board.”

Our Responsibility

So here is a Division I athlete’s challenge to the entire NCAA student-athlete body. Start this academic year with your teammates in a comfortable and inviting environment and ensure your actions do not negatively affect teammates, teammates’ families, or university faculty members. Watch out for your teammates and do the right thing.

If you care about the sport of swimming, your team, and your university, you as a scholar-athlete must make decisions that reflect positively on all levels of the campus community. Let’s show our incoming freshman classes that we are serious about our programs and share this article on your personal social media accounts. This will allow future teammates to fully understand the culture and ideals your swim team represents. This is our responsibility.

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7 years ago

Coaches who allow hazing on their teams should be fired. What possible positive outcome results from a culture of hazing. It is the coaches responsiblility to lead his/her team, and if a coach says they were “unaware” of any hazing going on? See first sentence above.

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7 years ago

Coaches who allow hazing on their teams should be fired. What possible positive outcome results from a culture of hazing. It is the coaches responsiblility to lead his/her team, and if a coach says they were “unaware” of any hazing going on? See first sentence above.