Seven varsity football players of a New Jersey high school were accused earlier this month of charges ranging from hazing to aggravated sexual assault.
BBC reports that senior players of Sayreville War Memorial High School in Sayreville would allegedly burst into the locker room, turn out the lights, pin down freshman players, and proceed to grab their buttocks, at the very least.
Three players face more serious charges, including sexual penetration of one victim.
The attacks, which occurred intermittently between September 19 and 29 according to the victims, may have been orchestrated. Four players would allegedly hold the freshman victim on the floor while two others kept on lookout. One of the attackers would signal the start of the ritual with a howl before turning off the lights and assaulting the freshmen, often lifting them off the ground by their feet and forcing a finger into their anus, while others cheered them on.
Two victimized players interviewed by the New York Times, including one who was digitally penetrated from behind, said they didn’t consider the hazing to be that serious.
Emerging details of the case initially shocked the small New Jersey community. After the news, the school’s superintendent Richard Labbe has cancelled the rest of the team’s season, but parents and students have since defended the program and criticized the decision as punishing students not involved in the hazing. Dozens protested against the season’s cancellation during a school board meeting.
“They were talking about a butt being grabbed,” said one player’s mother, Madeline Thillet. “That’s about it. No one was hurt. No one died.”
NY Magazine collected several tweets from Sayreville War Memorial High School students expressing anger at the school’s reaction:
If freshman thought we hated them before we sure as hell hate them now
— Nikki (@nicol_m_) October 7, 2014
Some have taken issue with even referring to the incidents as hazing, since, as Gary Phillips of the Journal News, writes, “By calling sexual abuse hazing, society grants those perpetrators a free pass and downplays the brutality of their actions. What is actually a very serious crime is passed off as a ‘rite of passage’ ritual that went too far.”
Michael Kasdan of the Good Men Project says there’s another word for what happened in Sayreville.
“It’s rape,” he writes. “Yes, it occurred as part of a football team hazing program, and it is boys acting against other boys, but – if the allegations are true – it is rape just the same.”
Robert Silverman of the Daily Beast asserts that incidents like those in Sayreville aren’t uncommon across the nation, as evidenced by the Steubenville rape case and the Pennsylvania State child abuse scandal.
“This is rape culture and in many places, it’s a part of football,” he writes.
Image: Sayreville High School students arrive at a school board meeting. Credit: NY Post.