By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Remember toward the end of last year when Major League Baseball got rid of rookie hazing? How it was such an affront to the sanctimony of the locker room and travel practices that the players’ union stuck out its chest and … didn’t even contest the proposal?
If you’re decent and logical, you understood then how the move was a no-brainer. Besides hazing being stupid beyond remote rational argument, the big win of the hazing ban means players can no longer dress up like women. Yes, this puts a kink in the odd repressed psychosexual issues of so many adult male athletes, but the trade-off is that they can no longer send a message that femininity is inferiority.
It’s an important win for anti-sexism, for sure. The ban, though, also puts a roadblock in the unfortunate avenue running from (mostly male) team sports from the pros to high school, one of humiliating teammates for the purposes of sadism masked as team-building and unity.
Pause for the spasm of dudes — from pros to barflies bragging about winning conference in high school — belching about how they wouldn’t trade their hazing experiences for the world they’ve constructed around themselves in which everything that feels right is good yet frowned upon by fragile libs. Bully for them and their limited vocabularies.
But here’s something else for which a hazing ban like MLB’s matters: Lake Zurich High School sports.
The details of a lawsuit filed Wednesday by two children and their families detailing alleged locker room hazing are sick and sad.
Football team bonding rituals over the past 20 years have included players urinating on teammates or placing their genitals on their faces without consent, according to the 67-page complaint seeking monetary and other damages. The suit also claims the Lake Zurich High football team has had players force teammates to perform oral sex in past years.
The suit lists instances of hazing, bullying and abuse that spread across Lake Zurich athletic programs and include forcing teammates to be naked, players placing their genitals on other teammates, forced sodomy with inanimate objects and urinating on teammates.
Sick and sad, yes, but unsurprising if you’re aware of byproducts of jock culture that often finds its way into rape culture. The lawsuit may not explicitly mention rape and maybe you don’t immediately think of boys on a team inflicting violence on various conditioned symbols of masculinity belonging to other boys as something sexual, but it’s almost all forced homoeroticism (yet usually under the guise of homophobia). And it’s rape — what’s detailed in this suit and what many of us have heard about or maybe even witnessed in our own locker room experiences in the past is sexual assault.
And it’s learned, be it from abusers carrying on traditions forced upon them in the past or watching players at the highest levels posting social media photos of “harmless” fun.
Alleged victims of sexual assault should be believed, and these from Lake Zurich are no different. But even without knowing what happened there (though the school’s athletic director, head football coach and an assistant coach all resigning last month is a bit of a tell), the Lake Zurich issue is one of sports’ relationship to coerced humiliation that too often is sexual in nature, be it cross dressing or genital violation or the scatological.
This is certainly not the only school where systemic problematic hazing has occurred. It’s just in this case that two boys finally decided that the honor of saying they were part of a team wasn’t worth sexual abuse. Most victims never speak up. Instead, many go on to become the abusers, even in adulthood.
Adults — people in positions of authority over kids — let this Lake Zurich awfulness happen, as is the case almost every time there’s a sex scandal at a school. Adults in some way knew what was going on and chose not to intervene because there was a certain vicarious thrill to knowing kids were carrying on tradition and the deranged perversity of those adults’ sporting childhoods.
Chad Beaver, the resigned assistant coach and former dean at Lake Zurich, allegedly told the parents of an alleged victim of urine-involved hazing last September that it was “not a big deal,” that players peeing on each other “happens all the time” and “even I got peed on in high school,” according to Deadspin. Beaver was also supposedly informed by a security guard at the school of another sexual hazing incident involving football players that the guard didn’t attempt to stop, and Beaver did nothing of great consequence about it for multiple days after. Coincidentally, Lake Zurich had a football playoff game the day Beaver was informed. It’d be a shame had the incident compromised the Bears’ win that night.
When you normalize sports as religion over the value of human bodies and emotional scarring, you get Penn State and a head coach who had to know, just like resigned Lake Zurich head coach David Proffitt had to know something based on all the claims in the suit. You get the nasty case after case rape culture of Baylor like a culture of abuse at Lake Zurich alleged to date back 20 years. You get Oregon football players being hospitalized because of a sadistic strength coach, and high school kids allegedly urinating on others without reproach for the sake of cohesive football.
And in all cases, there are authority figures doing little to nothing until they were caught not being responsible enough. Plus young people thinking these violations of others bodies and minds is OK, if not honorable and worthy of tradition.
When they say humiliating one another unites teams, they may be right. United in fear and shame and a desire to take this fear and shame and put it into the next group of new teammates, perpetuating a cycle that doesn’t break until there’s a lawsuit about broomsticks forced into behinds.
The ignorant public then suddenly gasps, “This isn’t normal.” But grown-up baseball players normalizing humiliation and other people having less worth? That sure is normal and harmless and unifying or something.
And then the public searches for more convenient answers as to how some impressionable but disturbed kids at a suburban Illinois high school could supposedly partake in such acts with utter disregard for human worth.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.