College Athletes’ Views on Sports Bullying and Hazing

Dr. Martha Mendez-Baldwin

Brian DeLaurentis

Manhattan College

Volume 1, Number 1, 2018



In order to understand bullying and hazing in sports more research is needed.  The goal of this study was to obtain information about college athletes’ attitudes about sports hazing and bullying.  Participants were 103 Division 1 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 athletes and coaches are discussed.

Keywords: hazing, sports bullying, sports culture, college athletes.

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 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.  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 claim that it improves team spirit.

Waldron (2015) conducted a study examining predictors of hazing acts and positive initiation rituals in high school and college athletes as a follow-up to the body of literature demonstrating the psychological, emotional, and physical harm associated with hazing as well as the multiple factors related to the occurrence of hazing, Waldron’s study examined the influence of competition level (high school v. college), gender, athletic identity, sport type, and team norms on severity of hazing and prevalence of hazing and positive initiations among athletes.  Participants included high school athletes as well as college athletes from all three NCAA divisions. Results revealed that 50% of athletes in the study had participated in either mild or severe hazing and 42% had participated in at least one severe hazing activity. Waldron’s study (2015) also revealed that college athletes were 6.5 times more likely than high school athletes to engage in positive initiation rituals. College athletes also reported greater team norms for positive initiation rituals than high school athletes.

 In addition, the results of Waldron’s 2015 study revealed that collegiate athletes were at greater risk for participating in hazing than high school athletes.  Waldron suggests that college athletes were more likely to experience hazing because when competitive levels increase, the stakes for the team and individual members are also higher. Furthermore, there may be an expectation for hazing to occur at the college level, because many college athletes were hazed as high school athletes.  This notion is supported by the results showing that team norms for experiencing hazing were the strongest predictor of participating in hazing. Waldron concludes that when team norms for hazing exist, many athletes will adjust their behavior to meet this norm even if they do not agree with it. One may reasonably conclude that one must decrease the team norm for hazing in order to reduce the prevalence of hazing acts.  To do so, parents, coaches, and other sport leaders must be proactive in educating athletes about the norms of sports and the consequences of hazing through team discussion, workshops, and others efforts to instill positive initiation rituals.

Kowalski and Waldron (2010) conducted a study examining athletes’ perceptions of coaches’ involvement and influence on hazing.  The study examined the perceptions of coaches’ responses to hazing. The participants consisted of 21 (11 males and 10 females) current or former high school or collegiate athletes who attend a Midwestern University. Participants responded to questions regarding coaches’ role and responses to hazing and other team cohesion activities in the form of an interview. The interview contained questions regarding the participants’ definition of hazing and how it defines a team, personal involvement with hazing experience, coaches’ awareness of hazing on the team, and coaches’ responses to and views on hazing.  The results indicate that athletes believed that their coaches allow hazing to occur on their teams, with many believing this to be especially true as long as the hazing “remained under control”. Only a small number of the athletes examined believed their coaches took a proactive stance against hazing; however, a large number believed that coaches should be more proactive in preventing hazing on sports teams. In addition, the study revealed that a large number of athletes believe that their coaches were not aware of the hazing rituals occurring within the team.

The belief that hazing enhances team cohesiveness is another important factor related to hazing.  Van Raalte, Cornelius, Linder, & Brewer (2007) note that even though hazing in sports is no longer considered acceptable, hazing is still commonly found in sports; claiming that one of the asserted reasons for hazing is that it promotes team cohesiveness which in turn enhances team performance.  They surveyed 167 athletes from six colleges/ universities from the United States. Of those 167 athletes 66 were female and 98 were male, while 3 did not reveal their gender. Athletes from track and field, swimming and diving, gymnastics, ice hockey, and basketball participated in this study. The athletes responded to questions regarding hazing and team cohesion. In addition, athletes were asked to rate the appropriateness of several activities.  Activities which were rated as appropriate included skill development activities (such as preseason practices), required positive behaviors (such as maintaining a specific GPA), and team socialization activities (such as attending a team roast). The following acts were deemed inappropriate and labeled as acts of hazing: tattooing, head shaving, consuming alcohol, simulating sex acts, passive victim abuse, coerced self-abuse or degradation, and coerced abuse of others.

Van Raalte, Cornelius, Linder, & Brewer’s study (2007) does not support the claim that hazing serves to enhance team cohesion.  The pattern of correlation showed that hazing was negatively related to team cohesiveness, while appropriate team building activities were positively related to team cohesiveness.

      Sports hazing and bullying in sports has not received as much research attention as the other forms of bullying.  The goal of this study was to obtain information about college athletes’ attitudes about sports hazing and bullying in order to gain a better understanding of bullying and sports hazing.



This study included 103 Division 1 athletes from Manhattan College, a private Roman Catholic Liberal Arts college in Riverdale, New York.  The following sports teams participated: men’s and women’s lacrosse, basketball, and soccer as well as women’s volleyball. All participants were over the age of 18 years.

      At the request of the IRB, demographic information for the individual participants was not collected.  Demographic information for the entire Manhattan College athletic population was collected. Manhattan College has 19 Division 1 teams, all of whom participate in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.  During the 2015-2016 academic year, the college had 365 active student-athletes, 181 females, 184 males. The athletes at Manhattan College are not required to participate in a sports hazing or hazing awareness program; however, team coaches discuss this issue with the athletes.


   A 25 item questionnaire, Attitudes toward Sports Bullying and Hazing, which was created by the researchers was used in this study.  The questionnaire included Likert Scale items assessing athletes’ attitudes about 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” and ” I have been negatively affected by hazing”.


    IRB approval was obtained for the study. The Director of Athletics and the Athletic Advisors assisted with the recruitment of participants.  All participants completed an informed consent document prior to participation. Participants completed the questionnaires either in the library before study hall or after practice in the locker room. 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.


Attitudes Toward Bulling and Hazing

79.6% of the participants believe that hazing is a form of bullying and 67.9% believe that hazing can cause serious damage to an athlete.  In addition, 54.4% believe hazing has a negative impact on a team and 57.2% agree that athletes should be punished for hazing but almost half (42.7%) of the participants believe that as long as no one gets hurt, a little hazing is okay.  Furthermore, more than half of the participants (68.9%) do not believe hazing improves team spirit and cohesiveness and 62.1% believe most athletes go along with hazing for fear of being isolated by their teammates. Lastly, 38.8% believe that hazing is a part of sports culture.

Views about NCAA Policies, Coaches and Team Captains

59.2% of the participants believe that the NCAA should have stricter rules against bullying and 41.7 % believe athletes should be required to take an anti-bullying and anti-hazing program.  Furthermore, 70% believe team captains should be responsible for making sure hazing and bullying does not occur.

Athletes’ Experiences & Proposed Actions

31% of the participants reported being hazed during their athletic career.  In addition, 57.3% would intervene if they witnessed a teammate being hazed and 69.9% would take a strong position against hazing if they were a coach.


Pearson Product Moment Correlation Coefficients were performed.  The results revealed a significant negative correlation (r=-.270; p <.05) between the belief that hazing is part of the sports culture and the belief that hazing has a negative impact on a team.   Athletes who agreed that hazing was a part of the sports culture were less likely to agree that hazing has a negative impact on a team.


The purpose of this study was to learn about college athletes’ views about sports bullying and hazing.  Results show that athletes have mixed views about sports bullying and hazing. While the majority of the participants believe that hazing is a form of bullying and that athletes should be punished for hazing, a fairly high number also believe that as long as no one gets hurt, a little hazing is okay.  In addition, while the majority believe that hazing has a negative impact on an athlete, only a little more than half would intervene if a team mate was being hazed. Lastly, about a third of the athletes believe that hazing is a part of sports culture.

These findings are consistent with those obtained in an earlier version of this same study (Mendez-Baldwin & Fontaine, 2017) which examined attitudes about sports bullying and hazing using a sample of high school male athletes.  The high school athletes shared the same views about sports bullying and hazing believing that bullying can have a negative impact on a team and individual team members but as long a no one gets hurt, a little hazing is okay. The attitudes expressed by both the high school and college athletes demonstrate the need for education about sports bullying and hazing for athletes.

 It is possible that attitudes sports and appropriate behaviors within the sports culture develop early in life and that those attitudes persist through the college years.  Such attitudes may be difficult to change and therefore significant education and training for athletes and coaches is imperative. Education may be the key to the prevention of bullying and hazing and to changes in views about sports and the sports culture.   Education about sports hazing and bullying should occur before high school to ensure that healthy attitudes about the sports culture, including views about sports bullying and hazing develop early.

    The athletes at Manhattan College are not required to participate in an anti-bullying/hazing program.  Coaches speak to their team members about bullying and hazing in an informal format that is left to the discretion of the individual sports.  Participation in comprehensive and formal anti-bullying and hazing program might help athletes develop healthier attitudes about bulling and hazing and to reduce the prevalence of bullying and sports hazing among athletes.  Athletic directors and coaches are encouraged to consider mandatory participation in formal anti-bullying and hazing programs for athletes of all levels of competition. Coaches should also implement positive team building activities and begin positive and healthy sports traditions to help modify the culture of sports.

Coaches are also encouraged to modify their views about sports bullying and hazing and adopt a leadership style that conveys a strong stance against any type of bullying or hazing among the athletes they train/coach.  A coach’s leadership style may contribute to the coach’s level of awareness of hazing as well as athletes’ comfort in speaking to coaches about hazing. Coaches and sport administrators, along with parents can begin to change the sports culture and team norms with respect to hazing and sports bullying. The belief that a little hazing as long as no one gets hurt can be replaced with a no tolerance view for hazing and sports bullying.

While the results of this study shed some light on college athletes’ views on sports bullying and hazing, the study is limited due to a small sample size and the fact that Manhattan College does not have a football, hockey, or equestrian team.  Follow up studies should examine larger samples of college athletes, including football, hockey and equestrian athletes. In addition, studies should also continue to explore coaches’ views about sports bullying and hazing.


Kowalski, C., & Waldron, J. (2010). Looking the other way: Athletes’ perceptions of coaches’ responses to hazing. International Journal of Sport Science & Coaching, 5(1), 87-100. doi:10.1260/1747-9541.5.1.87.

Mendez-Baldwin, M.M. (2017). Mendez-Baldwin, M.M., Fontaine, A. & Consiglio, J. (2017).

An examination of high school athletes’ attitudes about bullying and hazing. Journal of

Bullying and Social Aggression. 2(2). (

Van Raalte, J. L., Cornelius, A. E., Linder, D. E., & Brewer, B. W. (2007). The relationship between hazing and team cohesion. Journal of Sport Behavior, 30(4), 491-507.

Waldron, J. J. (2015). Predictors of mild hazing, severe hazing, and positive initiation rituals in sport. International Journal of Sport Science & Coaching, 10(6), 1089-1101. doi:10.1260/1747-9541.10.6.1089.



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