Boys Will Be Boys?

Seven football players at a New Jersey High School have been arrested and charged with a variety of offenses involving hazing related sexual assaults against younger players on the team.   Hazing, fundamentally the same thing as bullying with the difference being that hazing is more organized and involves initiation and acceptance into an organizational structure like a team or fraternity.  The community in this case, which has traditionally been highly supportive of their football team, is sharply divided about the  alleged criminal charges and the Superintendent’s decision to shut down the program for the entire season. Some folks feel that the acts of the perpetrators were not that bad – boys will be boys –  and that suspending the program hurts the other kids, especially seniors who are seeking college scholarships.   Others are horrified by the allegations and want to have answers from the adults in charge as to how they could not have known what was going on in the locker room.

I am relatively certain that what happened in New Jersey is not unique.   Males are by nature highly hierarchical, especially within the context of an all male organization, and  dominant males will use whatever tactics are necessary to  achieve and maintain their dominance.  Therefore, if, as we should,  want to protect against the most outrageous examples of hazing we need to find other ways of establishing hierarchy without resorting to violence.  The usual response by  adults in charge is to attempt to ban the practice entirely.   In other words zero tolerance for hazing.   Frankly all this will do is to drive hazing underground which is  potentially far more dangerous.   The more logical and ultimately effective response has to be based on the recognition that hierarchical behaviors will not go away.  Those in charge should be attempting to define hazing/initiation rules and regulations that .are consistent with the notion of  hierarchy yet still protect the well being of those subject to hazing.   Of course, this process will work best if the boys and young men who are part of these teams or fraternal organizations have input into the rule setting process.   Bottom line – Boys Will Be Boys but they do not have to be abusers to preserve one of the fundamental components of their masculinity.    .

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