Put sports hazing out of its misery

One tradition is being shelved while another persists, leaving vulnerable youth vulnerable to physical and emotional harm.

Lowell High’s annual Thanksgiving Day football game against Haverhill was canceled due to an alleged bullying incident involving Haverhill players, which was caught on video.

The two teams were scheduled to play at Haverhill at 10 a.m., the time all high school games will be played this season-ending for most teams.

After Haverhill lost the contest, Lowell will end the season with a 4-7 record.

Lowell made a wonderful comeback in last year’s competition, scoring 34 points in the second half to stun the Hillies 41-36.

Unfortunately, Lowell’s seniors won’t be able to experience that joy of victory or agony of defeat.

But that disappointment pales in comparison to the troubling allegations being leveled at members of the Haverhill High School football team.

An incident of sufficient severity to have placed the Haverhill football coaching team on paid administrative leave and prompted an investigation into the matter by the city’s police department.

Haverhill School Superintendent Margaret Marotta told parents Wednesday that the school department is investigating the misconduct of some members of the high school football team.

Marotta said the investigation is ongoing and significant material was uncovered on Wednesday that impacted the direction of the investigation and the school community at large.

Multiple media outlets have reported on a video posted on Boston 25 that allegedly shows members of the football team bullying a teenager.

The video appears to show three boys – one wearing a Haverhill football shirt – dragging another teenager across the floor of a dressing room. It shows a fourth teenager in underwear crouching in the victim’s face while other boys reportedly scream and cheer.

“Haverhill Public Schools will not tolerate harassment, harassment or retaliation of any kind,” the school district statement said. “Such misconduct will be dealt with quickly and will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on everyone involved.”

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said in a statement shared to Facebook on Wednesday night that he was “disturbed, concerned and frankly disgusted” by the video and that this “must never happen again”.

He said the boys involved in the incident “should be permanently removed from the team immediately.”

“I fully support the Superintendent’s actions to cancel the Thanksgiving game, suspend those involved and conduct a full investigation,” he said in the statement. “Parents deserve to know that their children are safe when they send their children to high school sports.”

Last spring, several schools across the state faced instances of harassment on their athletic teams, some resulting in criminal charges against athletes and the severing of ties with coaches, athletic directors and top administrators.

Following reports of the misconduct, Attorney General Maura Healey called a conference of policymakers to address the abuses.

In a well-publicized incident of bullying last year, several members of Woburn High School’s football team were eventually arraigned in Lowell Juvenile Court on charges of assaulting a 14-year-old freshman in the locker room.

The Woburn case highlighted a number of violent incidents in high school sports over the past year that have been brought to the attention of government officials, civil rights groups and student safety organizations.

Hazing in sports has long served as a form of initiation rite, largely youthful, nondegrading, and vicious in nature.

But in recent years, perhaps spurred on by the arbitrary, cowardly behavior made possible by social media, bullying has become open physical and psychological abuse, in some cases encouraged or ignored by adults in leadership positions.

Somehow, teaming up or teasing someone half your size symbolizes how tough it is to succeed on a soccer field, a basketball court, or an ice hockey rink.

This is a perversion of sports culture that produces cowardly thugs instead of character building.

How many examples of this horrific behavior will it take to forestall the next Hazers waiting?

Undoubtedly too many.


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