What are Initiation Rites and Hazing?
Across societies and time, people have initiated new members into groups, through ceremonies and rituals designed to foster a feeling of belonging. Yet sometimes those rites or activities cross the line into hazing - behavior that is humiliating, dangerous or even illegal. Because people's perceptions of hazing vary, it is difficult to delineate positive or acceptable initiation rites from questionable or unacceptable ones.
We defined hazing as "any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person's willingness to participate. This does not include activities such as rookies carrying the balls, team parties with community games, or going out with your teammates, unless an atmosphere of humiliation, degradation, abuse or danger arises." (2) This definition was printed clearly at the beginning of our survey forms.
Under this definition, 45 percent of the respondents reported that they knew of, had heard of, or suspected hazing on their campuses. Only 12 percent reported being hazed for athletics. Eighty percent, however, reported being subjected to one or more typical hazing behaviors as part of their team initiations. So, while students would acknowledge a wide range of hazing-type behaviors, they most often were reluctant to label them "hazing." This reluctance is understandable, particularly considering that hazing is a crime in 41 states.
The following tables display the athletes' reports of initiation behaviors, divided into four mutually exclusive categories:
- acceptable behaviors (only positive activities).
- questionable behaviors (humiliating or degrading activities, but no dangerous or potentially illegal, activities).
- alcohol-related activities (drinking contests, exclusive of other dangerous or potentially illegal activities).
- unacceptable and potentially illegal behaviors (activities that carry a high probability of danger or injury, or could result in criminal charges).
Twenty percent reported being involved in ONLY acceptable initiation activities. Even though athletes must perform to specific standards (skill level, performance in a sport or maintaining a specific GPA) in order to qualify for a team, the prevalence of hazing behaviors suggests that such acceptable activities are not enough. Athletes seem to need activities specifically designed for initiation, and if those are not provided, they will create their own.
Percentage of Athletes Participating in Acceptable Initiation Activities
|Acceptable Initiation Activities||Male 877||(n)||Female 1142||(n)||Total 2027||(n)|
|Attending pre-season training||89%||728||89%||983||88%||1716|
|Testing for skill, endurance, or performance in a sport||78%||678||78%||859||79%||1540|
|Keeping a specific grade point average||72%||612||78%||861||75%||1478|
|Dressing up for team functions (besides uniforms)||69%||591||75%||843||73%||1438|
|Attending a skit night or team roast||54%||457||57%||632||55%||1092|
|Doing volunteer community service||45%||383||54%||601||50%||987|
|Taking an oath or signing a contract of standards||44%||380||54%||602||50%||985|
|Completing a ropes course or team trip||29%||252||43%||475||37%||729|
|Total of athletes involved in at least one acceptable activity||96%||838||97%||1102||96%||1945|
Female athletes were significantly more likely to be involved exclusively in acceptable initiation activities and male athletes were significantly more likely to be involved in hazing behaviors. Still, as the tables below show, hazing was nearly as common among women as men.
Percentage of Athletes Participating in Questionable Initiation Activities
|Questionable Initiation Activities||Male||(n)||Female||(n)||Total||(n)|
|Being yelled, cursed, or sworn at||38%||326||25%||286||31%||614|
|Being forced to wear embarrassing clothing||22%||194||33%||373||29%||571|
|Tattooing, piercing, head shaving, or branding||32%||278||24%||272||28%||552|
|Participating in calisthenics not related to a sport||14%||125||11%||127||13%||253|
|Associating with specific people, not others||12%||101||11%||124||11%||226|
|Acting as personal servant to players off the field, court||10%||85>||8%||95||9%||181>|
|Being forced to deprive oneself of food, sleep, or hygiene||7%||56||8%||85||7%||141|
|Consuming extremely spicy/disgusting concoctions||8%||69||5%||60||6%||129|
|Total involved in at least one questionable activity||68%||594||63%||719||65%||1318|
The odds are high that a team that engages in questionable initiation activities will also engage in unacceptable activities. Although seemingly harmless,questionable activities are often a warning sign of more dangerous and destructive behavior. Over 80 percent of the athletes who were subjected to questionable initiation activities were also subjected to unacceptable activities. Dismissing questionable initiation activities as harmless is a common response, but by doing so, we may be ignoring more serious problems.
Percentage of Athletes Engaged in Questionable Activities Who Participated in At Least One Unacceptable Act
|Being yelled, cursed, or sworn at||81%|
|Tattooing, piercing, head shaving, or branding||81%|
|Being forced to wear embarrassing clothing||85%|
|Participating in calisthenics not related to a sport||98%|
|Associating with specific people, not others||98%|
|Being forced to deprive oneself of food, sleep, or hygiene||99%|
|Acting as personal servant to players off the field, court||100%|
|Consuming extremely spicy/disgusting concoctions||100%|
We know that many hazing deaths involve alcohol, either because students' judgment is impaired and they take risks they would not otherwise take, or because they overdose on alcohol. Respondents confirm that alcohol plays a major role in hazing to join athletic teams, with more than half of the athletes saying they were involved in alcohol-related initiation activities.
Percentage of Athletes Participating in Alcohol-Related
Initiation Activities (3)
|Alcohol-related Initiation Activities||Male||(n)||Female||(n)||Total||(n)|
|Consuming alcohol on recruitment visits||42%||364||39%||442||42%||809|
|Participating in a drinking contest||35%||302||34%||387||35%||693|
|Total involved in any alcohol-related activity||52%||456||51%||582||51%||1042|
One out of every five athletes (27 percent of men, 16 percent of women) participated in one or more unacceptable initiation rites, those that carry a high probability of danger or injury, or could result in criminal charges.
Percentage of Athletes Participating in Unacceptable Initiation Activities
Other Unacceptable Initiation Activities
|Making prank calls or harassing others||12%||105||8%||91||10%||197|
|Destroying or stealing property||11%||91||5%||59||7%||50|
|Engaging in or simulating sexual acts||7%||64||5%||52||6%||116|
|Being tied up, taped, or confined in small spaces||8%||65||3%||29||5%||94|
|Being paddled, whipped, beaten, kicked; beating others||5%||42||1%||13||3%||55|
|Being kidnapped or transported and abandoned||4%||33||2%||19||3%||52|
|Total involved in any one unacceptable activity||27%||234||16%||183||21%||418|
For 17 percent of the respondents, however, initiation goes beyond a single infraction. These athletes - overwhelmingly men - found themselves deeply immersed in a culture of hazing. They participated in or were subjected to five or more hazing behaviors. Factor analysis reported six distinct clusters of related behaviors. Further study into this clustering phenomenon, in which subcultures of hazing behavior seem to emerge, may offer insights into detection and prevention strategies.
(2) Many of the 41 states with anti-hazing laws limit their definition of hazing, often eliminating humiliation as an element. Many of the laws are specifically targeted to fraternity hazing, and do not cover athletic or high school hazing. State laws also vary on whether or not consent of the person hazed is included in the definition of hazing. (Source: Hank Nuwer)
(3) It should be noted that many athletes participating in alcohol-related initiation activities are under the legal drinking age of 21. In such instances, alcohol-related initiation rites are illegal.