Sexually exploitative athletic hazing on boys’ athletic teams is an increasingly frequent feature in the news. The physical and psychological abuse of younger team members by those who are more senior is not just humiliating but dangerous. Indeed, some athletes are charged with crimes that are committed during hazing activities. More to the point, the features of sexually exploitative hazing have all the earmarks of sexual harassment when team leaders use sexual assaults to keep younger members in their place by feminizing them or otherwise challenging their ability to conform to a hegemonic masculine sports stereotype. Athletic hazing’s part in maintaining that hegemonic masculinity is often an outgrowth of a “tradition” and is therefore “rationally” perceived as a rite of passage to this admired masculinity. However, athletic hazing is not rational. It is not an initiation rite because junior members are already members of the team. Instead, athletic hazing is explicitly about team self-governance, and sexually exploitative hazing is a potent tool to create a team hierarchy through fear and intimidation.
Given the indicia of sexual harassment in such hazing, Title IX litigation has proved an important remedy for individual boys who are brave enough to challenge the sports culture when they can no longer endure the physical and emotional abuse. But litigation is reactive, not pro-active, and Title IX’s better use may be in shaping systemic remedies in the locker room through either injunctive relief or investigation by the Office of Civil Rights. Schools have to take institutional responsibility for creating the culture that allows hazing to thrive in an inherently educational function. Thus, the cure for hazing is to make the adults in the building accountable for their devotion to an unattainable hegemonic sports masculinity and for their abdication of team governance to teenagers.
Susan P. Stuart, Warriors, Machismo, and Jockstraps: Sexually Exploitative Athletic Hazing and Title IX in the Public School Locker Room, 35 W. New Eng. L. Rev. 374 (2013).