OPINION: McNary hazing incident shows need for supervision

Locker room hazing is nothing new, but last month its cold reality was a realization in Keizer when five McNary High School freshmen football players were taken into custody following an investigation into harassment and assault claims. 

And in the weeks since news of the investigation and cancellation of the final two games of the frosh football season broke, facts have been few and questions a plenty. 

At the top of that list of questions has often been “where were the coaches?” Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) has not yet made anyone from the McNary coaching staff or athletics available to the Keizertimes for comment to attempt to get to the bottom of that question. However, almost anyone who played some sort of sport in high school can remember a coach on the other side of the glass in their office most of the time. 

Like the vast majority of schools across the nation, there is no direct policy regarding locker room supervision for McNary, SKPS or from the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) as a whole.

In the job details for coaches and assistant coaches, SKPS does state that one of the responsibilities for a coach “Ensures adult supervision of athletes before and after practice, games, and on bus trips.” Assistant coaches have the responsibility of supervision “as required” according to the SKPS job details. The OSAA has put out information to member schools to try and recognize and prevent hazing, but they have not gone to the extent of crafting any sort of policy to actively try and prevent it. 

But that’s not to say other schools in the area haven’t taken steps. In its coaches’ handbook, Kennedy High School, a 2A school in Mt. Angel just 17 miles northeast of Keizer, plainly states that coaches are responsible for the supervision of their student-athletes while engaged in school-sponsored activities. 

So what keeps McNary, the district or the OSAA putting something similar in place to help ensure student safety? The National Federation of State High School Associations has stated that supervision is the key to preventing locker room hazing incidents. Simply putting it in the job details with seemingly no follow up accomplishes little to nothing aside from the appearance of responsibility.

While there may be no policy on supervision, the district does have a policy regarding harassment and assault and the subsequent punishments laid out in its Student Rights and Responsibilities. However, these range from parent or guardian notification to expulsion, a rather broad spectrum of punishments, and no indication on what constitutes what punishment. 

Nor is it known whether or not the outcome of the criminal proceedings will have an impact on the punishments handed out by McNary or SKPS. 

McNary and the district have their own self-serving reasons to prevent incidents. Similar incidents across the country have led to multi-million dollar lawsuit payouts to victims. 

Those nationwide incidents are easy to find. A simple Google search for “high school locker room hazing” will bring up a litany of results, with a handful of incidents from the last couple of years right there on the front page. 

And within many of the examples through the years you can find parents of the accused making excuses, calling it simple horseplay or turning it around on the victim as being soft — an unfortunate reality of McNary’s incident as well. 

The Facebook comments of the initial Keizertimes story quickly turned ugly, with lines drawn and sides taken. It got to the point where comments on that post and subsequent stories on the matter have been disabled in an attempt to prevent altercations or the spread of misinformation in this story. 

But, that hasn’t kept some from still expressing their opinion on the matter directly to others involved, allegedly. The Keizertimes has heard unsubstantiated reports that at least some parents of some of the defendants made a trip to at least one victim’s home. 

Victim blaming contributes to one of the other factors for the continuance of hazing, the culture of silence that seems to loom over so many locker rooms. Whether it comes from a desire to “not rock the boat” or not wanting to be the one to bring down the team and end the season, or possibly even a feeling of regret and self-blaming by the victim, the silence allows the abuse to continue. 

And that is just what hazing is, abuse. And like so many other forms of abuse, it is cyclical in nature. Very few of those being hazed enjoy the experience or think it is okay at the moment. But the next year, all too often the former victim is ready to put someone else through the same terror. Perhaps more than a deep-seeded change in philosophy of what is right and wrong, it is more a “I went through it so you do too” type of mentality. 

Regardless of why it happened, or why it continues, it is clear that these locker room hazing incidents can not be allowed to continue. It’s not likely that you’ll get a group of 14-18 year olds to change their mentalities overnight, but the school, district or other governing body needs to step in to help ensure the safety and comfort of students that they are responsible for.