How Many Athletes Are Hazed?

On the basis of their reported behaviors and activities, approximately 80 percent of the respondents were subjected to questionable or unacceptable activities as part of their initiation onto a collegiate athletics team. When this figure is projected to the national population, over a quarter of a million athletes - about 255,637 - were hazed (4).

With all the possible interrelated combinations of acts, four mutually exclusive groups of students were defined based on the general seriousness of their activities:

  • 21 percent were involved in non-alcohol-related, unacceptable activities.
  • Another 39 percent were involved in alcohol-related activities.
  • 19 percent were involved in questionable activities only.
  • 19 percent were involved exclusively in acceptable activities.
Distribution of Athletes by the Severity of Collegiate Athletic Initiation
Activities % Estimated N
Acceptable initiation activities only 19% 61,888 athletes nationally
Questionable initiation rites, no unacceptable activities 19% 61,342 athletes nationally
Alcohol-related initiation; no other unacceptable activities 39% 126,254 athletes nationally
Unacceptable initiation activities, other than alcohol-related 21% 68,041 athletes nationally
Hazed (total of questionable, alcohol, & other unacceptable) 79% 255,637 athletes nationally

Based on this analysis:

  • One in five athletes was acceptably initiated.
  • One in five athletes was questionably initiated.
  • Three in five athletes were unacceptably initiated.

Additionally, 42 percent - a figure that projects to about 136,160 nationally - of the athletes surveyed reported consuming alcohol on recruitment visits. Campus visits are often the first step of new students' initiation onto a college team. Thus, for many athletes, hazing actually begins while they are in high school with underage drinking with their prospective college teammates.

Moreover, half of all athletes surveyed (49 percent) reported consuming alcohol during team initiation activities after matriculation. This number includes drinking contests or any other questionable or unacceptable activities done while consuming alcohol. Approximately 158,823 athletes nationally were expected to participate in drinking contests as part of their initiation onto a collegiate athletics team.

Distribution of Athletes by the Severity of Collegiate Athletic Initiation
Activities % Estimated N
Alcohol on Recruitment 42% 136,160 athletes nationally
Drinking Contests 49% 158,823 athletes nationally

As noted previously, there was a marked difference between the number of athletes who reported being hazed to join a college team, and in the type of behavior they reported. For that reason, we found it more useful to examine the reported behaviors in order to estimate how many college athletes were hazed to join teams. There were, however, some significant issues raised by respondents who acknowledged that they were hazed.

Many athletes were introduced to questionable initiation rites prior to college. Respondents were asked the age at which they were first hazed. Of those athletes who reported they were hazed in college, 42 percent reported that they had also been hazed in high school and 5 percent said they were hazed in middle school. Since far more athletes reported hazing behaviors than those who said they were actually hazed, the incidence of hazing behavior among high school and middle school students may also be much higher than these figures suggest. This finding requires further study. According to research reported in High School Hazing by Hank Nuwer (Franklin Watts/Grolier forthcoming), the majority of high school hazing incidents severe or objectionable enough to merit newspaper coverage are connected to hazing in high school athletic teams or cheerleading squads. For a recent example of alleged athletic hazing in high school, see article in Asbury, NJ, Park Press.

Younger athletes seem to be notably desensitized to hazing. The majority of students undergoing these experiences, the freshmen and sophomores, often do not acknowledge they were hazed. Juniors and seniors were significantly more likely to report hazing incidents, many of which occurred when they were 18 or younger.

Many athletes wrote comments on their response forms. Some said hazing does not exist on their campuses, or that it is a "non-issue." Others acknowledged hazing, but resisted efforts to stop it, saying it is "part of team chemistry," or a "tradition." One student wrote, "If no one is hurt to the point where they need medical attention, just leave it alone. All the kids get accepted when it's over... 90 percent of the time, it's a one-time deal and it's over. Leave it alone."

Coaches and administrators (5) seemed aware of the positive initiation activities, and unaware of the prevalence of hazing and alcohol use. Only 10 percent of the coaches reported that they knew of any hazing on their campuses. Fewer than 10 percent of the coaches and administrators reported knowing about alcohol consumption for team initiation.

Percentage of Respondents Who Knew of Acceptable Initiations
Acceptable Initiation Activities Athletes n=2027 Coaches n=1049 Ath. Dir. n=338 Deans n=235
Attending pre-season training 88% 82% 82% 74%
Tests for skill, endurance, or performance in a sport 79% 75% 80% 68%
Keeping a specific grade point average 75% 69% 68% 67%
Dressing up for team functions (besides uniforms) 73% 68% 58% 47%
Attending a skit night or team roast 55% 31% 34% 14%
Doing volunteer community service 50% 73% 79% 59%
Taking an oath or signing a contract of standards 50% 40% 45% 26%
Percentage of Respondents Who Knew Of Questionable/Unacceptable Initiations
Athletes n=2027 Coaches n=1049 Ath. Dir. n=338 Deans n=235
Questionable Initiation Activities
Yelling, cursing, or swearing 31% 12% 10% 16%
Wearing embarrassing clothing 29% 12% 11% 11%
Tattooing, piercing, head shaving, or branding 28% 15% 16% 16%
Participating in calisthenics not related to sport 13% 3% 3% 3%
Associating with specific people, not others 11% 2% 3% 6%
Acting as personal servant to players off the field, court 9% 3% 2% 3%
Depriving oneself of food, sleep, or hygiene 7% 1% 1% 2%
Consuming extremely spicy/disgusting concoctions 6% 0% 0% 1%
Alcohol-related Initiation Activities
Consuming alcohol on recruitment visits 42% 7% 5% 9%
Participating in a drinking contest 35% 4% 4% 8%
Other Unacceptable Initiation Activities
Making prank calls or harassing others 10% 0% 1% 3%
Destroying or stealing property 7% 2% 3% 3%
Engaging in or simulating sexual acts 6% 1% 0% 2%
Being tied up, taped, or confined in small spaces 5% 2% 1% 0%
Paddling, whipping, beating, kicking, beating others 3% 1% 1% 0%
Kidnapping or transporting and abandoning 3% 1% 1% 0%

Several athletic directors and coaches denied the need to discuss hazing or its prevention. In their written responses, they made comments such as: "This is a non-issue! It doesn't happen here;" "... this is one of the more ridiculous questionnaires I've ever been asked to complete;" "...(hazing) has never come up at any meeting in student life committee. If it happened, it would be an isolated case."

Some administrators were concerned about singling out athletes from the rest of the student body. Others took legalistic approaches, such as one senior student affairs officer who wrote: "Please note that the athletic department has no special policies and procedures for hazing. Should this happen, we would follow university policies and procedures. The university, through policies and student affairs regulations, enforces hazing prevention. Problems of and discipline for hazing is handled by upper administration, the same as all students."

Another frequent comment from athletic directors and coaches was that they perceive hazing is a problem for fraternities and sororities, but not for athletics.

All respondent groups agree that hazing is highly secretive. As one coach put it: "The rules as they are now are good rules. The problem is that we know hazing occurs but we have no proof. No one will come forward so it is not punished. You can't enforce a rule based on hearsay."

Athletes' Reporting of Hazing versus Coaches' and Administrators' Perceptions of Most Students' Reporting of Hazing
Student Reporting of Hazing Athletes n=2027 Coaches n=1049 Ath. Dir. n=338 Deans n=235
Would you, or most of your students, report hazing? No
If not, why not? (check all that apply) 60% 52% 54% 71%
It's not a problem; sometimes accidents happen 48% 26% 26% 37%
I just wouldn't tell on my friends, no matter what 26% 30% 36% 54%
Administration wouldn't handle it right & make it worse 26% 7% 7% 11%
Not comfortable talking to coach or AD, no one else to tell 6% 7% 11% 11%
Teammates would make my life so miserable, I'd have to leave school 4% 6% 6% 17%

Sixty percent of the athletes said they would not report hazing. Coaches believed that more students would report such incidents, and student affairs officers expected that fewer would report them. Students' reasons for silence were different from the reasons coaches and administrators expected them to give.

(4) To obtain estimated numbers (prevalence), we weighted our survey sample of 2,027 respondents by gender and division. Using NCAA participation rates from the NCAA Participation Study 1996-97 (1998), for gender and NCAA division, we divided the number of survey respondents in each category of gender by division to obtain the numbers to weight the sample.

(5) Administrators include athletic directors and senior student affairs officers. For ease in reporting, the senior student affairs officers are designated as deans in the tables.