Sayreville football team went far beyond hazing

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WestCoastJoe
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 9:02 am

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/12/opinion/r ... ?hpt=hp_t3
Sayreville football team case went far beyond hazing

By Mel Robbins

updated 11:39 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Sayreville football players are accused of sexual assault against freshmen
Mel Robbins: School superintendent was right to cancel the football season
Coaches must be held accountable, even if they didn't know what was happening, she says
Robbins: Practices like this happen over years, so attackers may have been victims themselves

Editor's note: Mel Robbins, a CNN commentator and legal analyst, is the founder of Inspire52.com, a news and entertainment site for women, and author of "Stop Saying You're Fine." This year, she was named outstanding news talk radio host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- On Friday, the Sayreville High School football team was supposed to host a rival team in a homecoming game. But instead of taking the field, seven Sayreville, New Jersey, players were taken into custody, arrested and charged in flagrant sexual assaults on younger players. Many have referred to the incident as pervasive locker room "hazing."

What allegedly happened isn't just hazing, it's rape.

"It would start with a howling noise from a senior football player at Sayreville War Memorial High School, and then the locker room lights were abruptly shut off," NJ Advance Media reported (citing information from the parent of one victim).

"In the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen. Then, the victim would be lifted to his feet" and sexually abused.

Hazing scandal cancels football season

If that's not enough to make you sick to your stomach, consider that these attacks allegedly happened several times -- between September 19 and September 29 -- and to four separate victims.

Consider that there were dozens of players in these locker rooms who allegedly witnessed the rapes and hazing and did nothing to stop, report or thwart them.

One bright spot in this horrific story is Dr. Richard Labbe, the superintendent who acted swiftly and definitively. On October 2, when a parent and student first reported the alleged assaults, the superintendent immediately canceled and forfeited that evening's football game because of a "serious and unforeseen circumstances."

Over the next couple of days, more information came to light, prompting Labbe to cancel the entire season because of "incidences of harassment, intimidation and bullying as constituted by the definition within the anti-bullying statute that took place on a pervasive level." His decision was unanimously upheld by the board of education.

The only thing more disgusting than these allegations are the reactions of the parents in Sayreville who showed up at the board of education meeting to protest.

You only need to read the comments of the mom of one football captain who was questioned by police to understand just how whacked some people are.

As she sees it: "No one was hurt. No one died. I don't understand why they're being punished. I think that the forfeited game was punishment enough." Seems the denial among some parents is just as pervasive as the crimes going on in the locker rooms.

To the parents complaining about lost scholarship opportunities, the fact is that if these charges are true, your son doesn't deserve a scholarship; he deserves jail time.

Among the litany of charges, three of the players are charged with aggravated sexual assault, which carries a five-year sentence if convicted in juvenile court. However, the prosecutor could charge all or some of the players as adults, which would mean substantially more prison time, leave them with criminal records and require their registration as sexual offenders.

So far, Labbe has handled this crisis flawlessly. So what should he do next?

1. Fire the entire football coaching staff.

Many parents are standing by head coach George Najjar, who has brought home multiple championships and run the football program for 20 years. He may win on the field, but he is a loser as a leader. Either he and his staff are grossly negligent for not knowing what was happening, or they knew and did nothing. Either way, it's appalling.

What was allegedly going on in their locker rooms is what you'd expect from a street gang or a prison yard, not a high school football team. The coach and his staff are responsible for the safety and well-being of their players and by allowing 60 to 70 high school boys to be repeatedly unsupervised in a locker room, the coaching staff put these freshman players in harm's way.

2. Cancel next season, too.

Culture takes a long time to change, unless it's forced to change. There was a pervasive abusive culture in that Sayreville locker room, and my hunch is it's been happening for years. You need to send a message to the players, the parents, the victims and the entire community that this will not be tolerated.

And for those players who weren't "involved," guess what: If you knew about the hazing and did nothing, you were "involved" and should feel the sting of punishment, too.

Sports commentator Shannon Sharpe said something very powerful about the hazing incident involving former Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito, who was suspended after allegations of pervasive racial harassment of Jonathan Martin.

Referring to the players who witnessed the alleged hazing, Sharpe said: "If you allow Richie Incognito to walk around (the locker room) and use a racial epithet, that all black Americans know the stigma and hate and vitriol that comes with that word -- if you allow him to do that, you're encouraging him to do that."

To change culture, the message must be clear: Abuse, bullying and hazing will not be tolerated at Sayreville, and neither will indifference.

3. Find the truth, the whole truth.

The truth will come out. Prosecutors will be calling every player in individually for questioning. Players will be asked under oath about the howling, turning off the lights, holding victims down, who did what, how often, whether there were videos or photos. We are at the beginning of this story, because I am certain it didn't start with this season. A locker room does not go from towel snapping to anal rape overnight.

I can only wonder what was done to the seven boys who were arrested when they were freshmen in that locker room.

It doesn't excuse their alleged actions if they were victims of similar crimes, but it does help explain why it happened -- perhaps they were taught to do it. If that's the case, they were once victims, too, and it should be part of the facts considered when the courts determine their fate.

And to the heroes in this story, the student victims who came forward: Our hearts go out to you, and we are all moved by your courage. It's extremely difficult to stand up to abuse, and there's no doubt you saved future students from the same horrible fate. Your parents must be so very proud of you for having the guts to ask for help.

I hope you are also proud of yourselves. Strength of character is a much more valuable asset in life than winning a football game will ever be.
John Madden's Team Policies: Be on time. Pay attention. Play like hell on game day.

Jimmy Johnson's Game Keys: Protect the ball. Make plays.

Walter Payton's Advice to Kids: Play hard. Play fair. Have fun.

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WestCoastJoe
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 9:09 am

Is our world going crazy?

Has it always been this way, but now, through the media and more openness in some ways, it all comes out.

The Head Coach has to be fired, along with his staff. Locker rooms such as in this case cannot be left unsupervised. The kids can still have privacy but the staff can hear what is going on, and of course pregame talks take place here as well.

The sick culture evident in the football team developed over a period of time. The cycle of abuse settled in. Some victims given their chance in later years perpetrate the same crime. The leadership culture amongst the athletes was very strong, nasty and criminal. The followers in the group find it impossible to challenge the leaders. They don't know any better, and there they are right in the middle of it. But these are high school kids, and the coaches just have to know better, and they have to take precautions, and they have to set the right example. I cannot help but think that the Head Coach is extremely liable.

This was beyond hazing. Rape was involved. Over a period of time.

I can't help but think that the extreme nature of football, with its physical violence, its demands on the athletes, the culture of win at all costs, the lure of big money in the pros, et cetera, all of these things create a dangerous environment.

And then the parents, protesting at the cancellation of the season. :dizzy:

The Richie Incognito / Jonathan Martin situation is mentioned. Many issues involved.

Dunno ... It is crazy.
John Madden's Team Policies: Be on time. Pay attention. Play like hell on game day.

Jimmy Johnson's Game Keys: Protect the ball. Make plays.

Walter Payton's Advice to Kids: Play hard. Play fair. Have fun.

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Toppy Vann
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 9:25 am

I am one who doesn't tolerate "rookie nights" or any ritual of hazing in the name of anything let alone team spirit.

I want a team of leaders not followers and sheep who go along to get along.

This stuff is disgusting and I take the view of Marc Trestman on this - state up front to your team this stuff is NOT going to happen here. PERIOD. No discussion.

TheLionKing
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 10:44 am

What a dumbass comment by one of the moms "nobody got hurt"

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notahomer
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 2:28 pm

Yuck! glad its being dealt with firmly....
Toppy Vann wrote:I am one who doesn't tolerate "rookie nights" or any ritual of hazing in the name of anything let alone team spirit.

I want a team of leaders not followers and sheep who go along to get along.

This stuff is disgusting and I take the view of Marc Trestman on this - state up front to your team this stuff is NOT going to happen here. PERIOD. No discussion.
:thup:

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Toppy Vann
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 6:32 pm

I coached JV university soccer but had the team play under an alumni banner to avoid loss of eligibility. I was an assistant to a former Scottish pro/international and former pro coach. He abhorred this stuff and as a player and coach wouldn't tolerate this. We had some high school students who went to be starters on the side and I was instructed to speak to each player on the team on our position as well as I phoned the parents of the grade 12s to inform them while we know the Varsity team asked them out to rookie night, we didn't believe in this and felt that these kids should not be there. NOT one parent objected and we shook our heads.

However the ongoing crap that we heard of that went on the year before we got there like shoe polishing someone's genitals did not occur as that coach and I would be nearby and not in an upstairs office like the varsity coach. We weren't watching but would often sit in the empty track locker room next door and have players come in and out.

What used to bug the coach and I was how the varsity players would steal their sweats and jerseys and leave behind their old ones so they'd have two brand new ones. In training sessions they'd be allowed to clutch and grab our guys and their coach just laughed. This culminated in the team heading to the nationals and teh varsity coach setting up a full game with our team - unis and refs. We won the game and they lost their star defender as it was a hard fought game (not dirty play).

We went on the next year to place 6 starters on that team and that day all that crappy treatment was rewarded with a great game on our side. One funny aspect - our coach Jim Easton had me get Dan Nichols - my star Striker out as he was a fireman off duty. BUT the varsity coach used him as he was short due to classes to half time. Dan was killing us with great crosses. Jim demands I get him back as they had 18 guys now. The var. coach said no - he is playing well and wants to keep him...lol. I'm sent back and finally get him back.

Post game I apologize as he knows the star defender is done for at least a game or two due to accidental injury. He was so into the battle he said it was fine.

Our guys broke away from the rookie stuff that arose at times as our players asked Jim and I why they would do that. These guys went to be on leaders and one even to the 86ers for some years. They never did that stuff to rookies as they had been there since grade 12 and wanted a team.

Honestly, this stuff should be banned and coaches fired IF it goes on. Older players are basically trying to establish a pecking order in the team and that is wrong. A team is not a hierarchy but this puts rookies in their place in the pack - like animals do! Seriously - that is what animals do.

I recall the HC of the football team ripping his team for this crap at their TC with lunch eating rituals and put downs of rookies.

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Sir Purrcival
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Tue Oct 14, 2014 10:02 am

It's funny, I always thought that a team was built from people who band together and face adversity together and strive together. I don't know how that is supposed to work when you are nervous and intimidated by your own teammates. You are supposed to want to go above and beyond for these persons in your life. If teammate(s) did something like that to me, I wouldn't want to even grace them with my spit if I walked over their grave. I mean I even have issue with the tradition of the rookie dinner where the ones who get paid the least are expected to shell out thousands for a bunch of guys who get paid a lot more. Bonding shouldn't have anything to do with glue, shoe polish, or anything else that is cruel and humiliating.
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sj-roc
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Tue Oct 14, 2014 11:58 am

Sir Purrcival wrote:It's funny, I always thought that a team was built from people who band together and face adversity together and strive together. I don't know how that is supposed to work when you are nervous and intimidated by your own teammates. You are supposed to want to go above and beyond for these persons in your life. If teammate(s) did something like that to me, I wouldn't want to even grace them with my spit if I walked over their grave. I mean I even have issue with the tradition of the rookie dinner where the ones who get paid the least are expected to shell out thousands for a bunch of guys who get paid a lot more. Bonding shouldn't have anything to do with glue, shoe polish, or anything else that is cruel and humiliating.
Thing is, it's not even about bonding. It's like Toppy said in the post just before yours, "Older players are basically trying to establish a pecking order in the team." Then when these rookies rise to the veteran ranks, the cycle continues with the next round of recruits who come up behind them: "I had mine, they'll get theirs."

There was probably a time when hazing (however you want to define it) was commonplace, almost default, but times are changing. I suppose advancing technology has enhanced recording and/or communicating about it, and created broader awareness of it than ever before, which has definitely exposed its deplorability.
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Tue Oct 14, 2014 2:23 pm

My first year of high-school we had an event during Spirit Week (celebrating our schools spirit/pride). The Friday of 'Spirit Week' we had to wear the school colours or possibly face the wrath of 'KANGEROO COURT'.
It turned out my first time watching Kangeroo Court was the last one EVER held at my school. There were too many disgusting things done, in the name of fun, that the following year, Kangeroo Court was discontinued.

At the time I was dissappointed as it seemed fun to watch others have to do silly things, like feed each other peanut butter while blindfolded. It didn't seem to make much sense this had been stopped.

Now of course, I fully understand and support activities like this being banned. Even if participation is voluntary. I'm embarrassed that I willingly went and watched fellow class-mates be humiliated in front of the whole school.

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Toppy Vann
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Tue Oct 14, 2014 6:14 pm

notahomer wrote:My first year of high-school we had an event during Spirit Week (celebrating our schools spirit/pride). The Friday of 'Spirit Week' we had to wear the school colours or possibly face the wrath of 'KANGEROO COURT'.
It turned out my first time watching Kangeroo Court was the last one EVER held at my school. There were too many disgusting things done, in the name of fun, that the following year, Kangeroo Court was discontinued.

At the time I was dissappointed as it seemed fun to watch others have to do silly things, like feed each other peanut butter while blindfolded. It didn't seem to make much sense this had been stopped.

Now of course, I fully understand and support activities like this being banned. Even if participation is voluntary. I'm embarrassed that I willingly went and watched fellow class-mates be humiliated in front of the whole school.

I would have reacted that same identical way. I played sports my entire life and I'd not have been part of a team that did that to players and I'd not subject myself to that. In our HS football team we did one crazy thing - not all did it.... On Halloween post practice some would stay in uniforms and knock on a few doors for trick or treats and share the proceeds with the team. Harmless and residents by the school thought it funny as mostly OL and the only guys under 200 pounds were the ends.

Marc Trestman has even studied values based leadership and stopped the hazing culture.

http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/bears/p ... f-the-game
Trestman now seems to be taking things a step further, based on this article written by Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback, and might be on track to show that a proper culture in the locker room could translate into victories on the football field.

According to King, Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler hopped a flight to New York to meet with Dov Seidman, an author who writes and speaks about values-based leadership, to toss around ideas about how to foster a more ethical culture in the locker room. What's interesting is Trestman made the eradication of hazing one of his first directives after taking the job as head coach of the Bears, and some of the players believed that move last season fostered a better work environment.

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