Journal of Bullying and Social Aggression
Volume 2, Number 2, 2017
An Examination of High School Athletes’ Attitudes about Bullying and Hazing
Sports bullying and hazing among high school athletes has not received as much research attention as the other forms of bullying. In order to understand bullying and hazing in sports more research is needed. The goal of this study was to obtain information about high school athletes’ attitudes about sports hazing and bullying. Participants were 229 male high school athletes. They completed a survey assessing attitudes about sports hazing and bullying as well as the prevalence of behaviors related to the belief that sports hazing is a part of the sports culture. Results demonstrate that athletes have mixed attitudes about sports hazing and bullying; while many believe that sports hazing can cause negative damage to an athlete, many also believe that a little hazing is okay as long as no one gets hurts. Furthermore, the results reveal that many behaviors and attitudes about sports bullying and hazing are related to the belief that hazing is a part of the sports culture. Implications for parents and coaches are discussed.
Keywords: hazing, sports bullying, sports culture, high school athletes.
An Examination of High School Athletes’ Attitudes about Bullying and Hazing
A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself (Olweus, 1993). The goal of bullying is to gain power over and dominate other individuals. Bullies engage in hurtful behavior against those who cannot defend themselves because of size, strength, psychological resilience, physical or mental limitation, or social status (Olweus, 1993).
Hazing is any action or situation created by a group to intentionally produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule among those wishing to join the group. Hazing is expected of someone joining a group regardless of the person’s willingness to participate (Hoover, 2002). Hazing is a form of bullying, but the two differ in the following ways: (1) Bullying excludes the victim from a group whereas hazing is a ritual imposed on a person who wants to join a group; and (2) Bullies often act alone or in small groups, but hazing commonly involves an entire group or team.
According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, hazing in sports is quite common. At the college level, 80 percent of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes say they have experienced some form of hazing throughout their college athletic career while 42 percent reported a history of also being hazed in high school. Hazing is also becoming quite prevalent at the middle school and high school level. Gershel, Katz-Sidlow, Small, and Zandieh (2003) assessed the prevalence of hazing among middle and high school athletic athletes. They surveyed 1105 high school and middle school athletes (grades 6-12) and found that 17.6% of the student athletes reported being subjected to “practices that qualify as hazing.” (Gerschel et al., 2003). One thing to note about this study is that the definition of hazing only included acts that were performed as a rite of passage or initiation, and therefore did not consider the bullying or hazing that may have occurred within the team after the individual had been initiated. Gerschel et al. (2003) also found that overall, boys reported being physically hazed more frequently than girls however, the two sports which were reported as having the highest amount of hazing were gymnastics (42.3%) and cheerleading (35.3%). This is an interesting finding in light of the individual nature of these two sports and the fact that they are more popular among females. Lastly, this study highlights the fact that many of the student athletes were accepting of the hazing activity, with 86% stating that it was “worth it” and merely just “embarrassing” (28%).
Despite a large number of highly publicized cases of hazing in which team members experienced brutal treatment, many still hold the belief that hazing is a rite of passage and part of being on a team. Many, including athletes, coaches, and parents claim that it improves team spirit. Sports hazing and bullying in sports has not received as much research attention as the other forms of bullying. In order to understand bullying and hazing in sports more research is needed. The goal of this study was to obtain information about high school athletes’ attitudes about sports hazing and bullying as well as the prevalence of behaviors related to sports bullying and hazing. More specifically, the purpose was to examine whether high school athletes believe that bullying and hazing in sports can be harmful or whether it is an acceptable part of the sports culture. It was the hope of the researchers that this study would shed some light on an issue that can have significant negative consequences to an athlete but has gone largely under explored. Youth sports should be an opportunity for children and adolescents to get physical exercise, develop their self-esteem, and learn about self-discipline and being a part of a team. Youth sports should not expose a young athlete to any behavior that potentially could cause negative emotional harm or physical injury beyond the normal risks of playing a sport.
Participants consisted of 229 high school athletes at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, New York. Christian Brothers Academy is a college preparatory high school for boys founded in 1859 by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Christian Brothers Academy participates in the Big Ten Athletic Conference under the guidelines of Section II and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. Christian Brothers Academy is classified by Section II as a “Class AA” school. Participants consisted of athletes in the following sports: football, lacrosse, baseball, soccer, basketball, and hockey. Participants consisted of 9th-12th grade student athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 years. At the request of the IRB, demographic information for the individual participants was not collected.
A 25 item questionnaire, Attitudes towards Sports Bullying and Hazing, which was created by the researchers was used to assess the high school athletes’ attitudes toward sports bullying and hazing. The questionnaire included Likert Scale items assessing athletes’ attitudes toward sports bullying and hazing. Sample questions included “sports hazing and bullying are different,” “as long as no one gets hurt, a little harmless bullying is fine,” “I have been negatively affected by hazing,” and “hazing is part of being on a team”.
IRB approval was obtained for the study. All participants’ parents completed an informed consent document prior to participation. In addition, child assent was obtained from all participants. Participants completed the questionnaires at school during the Spring 2015 semester. The participants took about 15 minutes to complete the questionnaire. Debriefing forms were distributed after the questionnaires were completed. Participants were informed of the availability of the counselors at the counseling center in case they were feeling any stress or emotional upset as a result of completing the questionnaire.
Among the participants, 58.8% of the participants believed that hazing is a form of bullying and 48.9% of them believe that as long as no one gets hurt, a little hazing is okay. In addition, 42.8% believe that hazing is a part of sports culture and 38.8% would intervene if they witnessed a teammate being hazed. The majority of the participants (52.8%) believe team captains should be responsible for making sure hazing and bullying does not occur and only 15.7% believe athletes should be required to take an anti-bullying and anti-hazing program.
The results also show that 33.2% of the participants believe that hazing has a negative impact on a team and 45.9% do not believe that hazing improves team spirit and cohesiveness. Additionally, 33.2% of the participants believe most athletes go along with hazing for fear of being isolated by their teammates.
In regards to coaches, 36.2% of the participants feel that coaches ignore bullying. A large number of participants (66.4%) reported that they would take a strong position against hazing if they were a coach. Lastly, 51.4% of the participants reported that their parents have not spoken to them about sports hazing or bullying.
Correlations were performed to assess the relationship between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and various other attitudes and behaviors related to sports hazing and bullying. A significant correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that fear of hazing motivates an athlete to work harder was obtained (r =.248;p<.01) indicating that those who believed that hazing is a part of the sports culture were more likely to believe that fear of hazing motivates an athlete. A significant correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that hazing is a rite of passage was also obtained (r =.40;p<.01) indicating that those who believed that hazing is a part of sports culture were more likely to believe that hazing is a rite of passage. Lastly, there was a significant correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that as long as no one gets hurt a little hazing is OK (r =.47;p<.01) indicating a strong positive relationship between these two attitudes.
Significant negative correlations between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that there should be laws against hazing (r = -.33;p<.01) as well as the belief that athletes should be punished for hazing (r = -.35;p<.01) were obtained. This indicates that those who believed that hazing is part of sports culture also were less likely to think that athletes should be punished for hazing or that there should be laws against hazing.
A correlation was also performed to assess the relationship between being negatively impacted by hazing and communication with parents about hazing. Results show that athletes who had been negatively affected by hazing also reported that their parents had spoken to them about hazing (r =.80;p<.01).
According to a study conducted in 2015 by the Statistics Brain Research Institute, 36,000,000 children between the ages of 6 and 12 play a team sport. The large number of youth involved in sports warrants a close examination and understanding of sports bullying and hazing. This is a topic which has largely been ignored. Greater attention has been payed to other forms of bullying, such as physical bullying and cyber-bullying. The goal of this study was to examine high school athletes’ attitudes about sports bullying and hazing as well as the relationship of these attitudes to the belief that hazing is just a part of the sports culture. Furthermore, this study explored the prevalence of certain behaviors and attitudes related to hazing and sports bullying such as talking to parents about hazing and sticking up for a team mate who is being hazed.
The results highlight the mixed attitudes that high school students have about sports hazing and bullying. Despite the negative attitudes surrounding bullying, it appears that athletes may view hazing as just part of playing sports and a behavior that within limits is acceptable. While a little more than half of the participants believe that hazing is a form of bullying just under 50% of the participants believe that as long as no one gets hurt, a little harmless hazing is OK. Furthermore, only about 40% of the participants would intervene to help a teammate who was being hazed and very few believe that athletes should be required to take an anti-bullying or anti-hazing program. The mixed attitudes are further exemplified by the fact that while just under half of the participants believe that as long as no one gets hurt a little harmless hazing is OK a larger percentage reported that if they were a coach they would take a strong stance against hazing. This highlights the need for discussion and education among athletes about the issue of hazing and sports bullying. Perhaps athletes would benefit from open discussions with peers, parents, counselors, and coaches about hazing and sports bullying. Such discussion may allow athletes to further develop their ideas and beliefs about hazing in the sports world.
The results provide some preliminary findings that serve as a starting point for addressing hazing as a component of the sports culture. The results demonstrate that there is a relationship between believing that hazing is part of the sports culture and the belief that the fear of being hazed motivates players to work their hardest. This might indicate that athletes believe that hazing has a rightful place in sports and that it might bring out the best in a player thereby strengthening the team as evidenced by the significant negative correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that hazing has a negative effect on a team that was obtained in this study. This is an alarming finding because if athletes believe that hazing makes a team stronger than they may be more inclined to engage in hazing behavior. Moreover, they may be less inclined to report the hazing which appears to be further evidenced by the relationship between the belief that hazing is part of the sports culture and the belief that hazing is a rite of passage. If athletes believe that hazing is part of sports and a rite of passage one must question the likelihood of a new member of a team feeling comfortable reporting an act of hazing. Failure to report will not only increase the likelihood of the hazing being repeated in the future but it may also put the athlete at risk for emotional and/or physical harm.
Finkel (2002) highlights the dangers of hazing in fraternities. The dangers of hazing among athletes should be a concern among parents and coaches. The results of the current study revealed that a large number of participants believe that coaches ignore bullying and hazing among athletes. Furthermore, a little more than half reported that their parents have not spoken to them about sports bullying and hazing. This may further serve as a deterrent for reporting incidents of hazing among athletes. Coaches and parents should become informed about the dangers of hazing. Edelman (2004) believes that high school personnel should be taught about hazing and how to look for it. Teaching high school personnel about hazing, puts them in a position both to stop hazing and to be a confidant for those who have been hazed. It can potentially decrease the prevalence of hazing in school and have a positive effect on school sports altogether. (Edelman, 2004). This, along with mandatory anti-hazing and anti-bullying programs for student athletes as suggested earlier, may begin to change the culture of sports and the experiences of children and adolescents involved in sports. Lastly, schools should examine why their zero tolerance for bullying within the school has not been extended to the sports fields and courts.
This study highlights the importance of open communication about sports bullying and hazing between parents and their children. Parents should be encouraged to take the initiative to open the lines of communication regarding bullying, sports hazing and the culture of sports with their children. This study demonstrated a significant relationship between being negatively affected by hazing and communication with parents about hazing. This most likely means that, in times of distress, the affected athlete has gone to their parents after they have experienced some form of sports bullying or hazing. While it is good that parents were turned to for support, open communication before a child joins a team sport, may serve as a preventative measure.
More research on sports bullying and hazing is needed in order to address the issue more effectively in schools. The factors related to bullying and hazing in sports as well as prevalence rates among different types of sports should be examined. This study only included male high school athletes. Attitudes about sports hazing and bullying among females athletes and college athletes should also be explored. Furthermore, the effects of anti-hazing educational programs for athletes and coaches should be evaluated.
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