Regular readers know I have some pretty strong Jersey roots on this blog as it’s my adopted home. Yes I voluntarily love New Jersey, except when things like what’s been breaking in the news about the Sayreville War Memorial High School Bombers. Then, I want to disown it, and might have done more than just moved out of it, if not for a lack of fine upstanding places to replace it.
Sayerville is a blue collar central Jersey town located in Middlesex county along the Raritan River, essentially existing as the gateaway to the shore. Due to it’s proximity to the former Birch Hill Nightclub in neighboring Old Bridge and some of the salty folk hailing from it, it’s affectionately referenced as Slayerville sometimes (yes, after the Cali thrashers). There’s not a lot to hate about it really, Jon Bon Jovi (class of 1980!), Starland Ballroom, Big Harlies BBQ are pretty cool, but other than that there’s really nothing thoroughly outstanding about it either.
War Memorial High revolves more around it’s successful football team which won the Group IV title in 2010, 2011 and 2012 than it necessarily does around its academics which landed it 163rd-ranked public high school in New Jersey out of 339 this year by NJ Monthly‘s annual rankings, while the NJ Government recognized it only achieves a middling experience by outperforms 51% of schools statewide (although a more robust 79% of schools educating students with similar demographic characteristics) meeting only 93% of its performance targets, while only outperforming 45% of schools statewide in college preparedness and meeting a mere 20% of its targets.
Repeatedly successful sports programs, particularly when paired with less successful academics, has proven to create a certain level of sports related entitlement within a community. The image, and thus importance, of the team superceeds that of the school as a whole and serves to elevate these teenage players to revered, idolic status. While appreciating the hard work and singular dedication it takes to achieve their level of success is important, it is well documented that it often goes beyond such recognition to include special treatment and other luxuries not afforded to similarly hardworking and successful students within the community. Playing sports then takes a prescient withing the community at large that it’s proven can result in the shielding of players from that which would otherwise have earned them academic or legal repercussions other students routinely face for the same actions.
Forgive me if I sound critical of sports culture, particularly football culture, on the blog. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what sports has to offer both at the educational and professional level in some way, it’s more that glorification and objectification of it when society allows it to shade what should otherwise be obvious, rational reactions to bad things.
In Sayerville news recently broke of a hazing scandal. From what I understand this wasn’t an isolated incident of hazing, it was a broad ranging throughout the entire football program from Fresh-Soph through Varsity and systemic over a number of years predating the current title run. Attempts at whistle-blowing it were met with increased hazing and other social pressures. It occurred both on and off school property during and outside of school hours both in person and through digital technology and it included physical, sexual and psychological abuse over a long period of time for those being subjected to the hazing.
The reaction by the community?
As one father put it, “They’re holding the kids accountable and not holding the coaching staff and the teachers accountable. I don’t think what they’re doing is fair.”
Rather than squarely place blame the students who were perpetuating what is criminal activity and those who silently stood by and thus condoning it was to immediately lash out at the coaches and school administrators. Predictable it’s everyone else’s fault but mine bullshit that demonstrates how morally corrupt and irresponsible too many adults are.
While the coaches and school administrators are responsible for the hours these events happened under their supervision where then is the outrage about bad parenting and blame for the parents who should have been responsible for their children’s actions outside of school hours?
There was no outrage because rather than accepting responsibility for their own failures, as parents, and as a community at large they wanted an easy target to deflect their contrived moral outrage toward, a villain and it’s way to in vogue to blame the school over one’s self. The school is, of course, a baby sitter in all too many parent’s eyes and this kind of response just proves that parent’s don’t appreciate the positions they put school’s in by both treating the school as a nanny and then handcuffing the school’s ability to create and enforce codes of conduct and punishment.
There are probably those at the school who should and probably will be held accountable but that’s really just strawman reasoning to pass the blame that rests squarely on the shoulders of the kids who are getting what they deserve for the actions they took. I just can’t feel sympathy for the town when it’s anger is so misplaced.
Regardless of what action the school should have taken, and had it known of the violence absolutely should be held responsible for that negligence, the responsibility begins at home. Your kid, your responsibility. End of story. If they are abusive and inflicting physical and mental harm on their fellow students, it’s not the school’s fault, but its probably yours and because of your absent parenting is now the school’s and the community as a whole’s responsibility to deal with the lack of effective parenting in an incident like this. The fact you didn’t know your kid was acting like this is more an indictment of you than it is of the school for not knowing since the school really only does have your kid for a few hours of the day and this wasn’t just happening on school grounds during school hours.
It only stands to reason too if you, as a parent, are going to take credit for your child’s successes you are equally obligated to assume the same level of responsibility in their shortcomings, particularly when you, as a parent were just a negligent in your parenting by allowing this to happen as anyone at the school you are so outraged about. Every one of these parents complaining and finger pointing now was proud of how their kid performed on the field as part of a championship team but willing to completely ignore their child’s role in the atrocity that happened, as if the school taught your kid how to act like an asshole. Judging from the parental responses, it’s pretty obvious where they actually learned it.
The Sayreville Police Department and Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office investigating allegations determined “there was enough evidence to substantiate there were incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying that took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level, and at a level in which the players knew, tolerated and in general accepted” according to the school principle as he cancelled the season.
The response in the community? Here’s some pull quotes I found from both students and parents of students in the community on ESPN and NJ.com:
“We have the football player’s backs.”
Now, I’m all for the assumption of innocence, except when it’s pretty patently obvious there’s a lack of innocence to be had. Your priorities are completely backwards. You should have the backs of those who were hazed. Period. End of story. Like any accusation of child abuse, rape, etc. the victim should be the first priority, not the last. This quote represents exactly the attitude that forced the abused students to suffer in silence for so long and gave strength to the perpetrators in feeling they can get away with their perverse actions.
“Not in our town.”
Sorry, it was in your town. Denial will not change that, it will only make you look more ignorant that you already come across. You want that phrase to really ring true next time? Take responsibility it did indeed happen in your town and you’re sorry the community here wasn’t properly prepared for it and tamp down the culture of abuse by being the first in line to help create fail safes so it cannot happen again.
“It’s part of the comradery.”
No, it’s not. Assault is a crime. Battery is a crime. Rape is a crime. Harassment is a crime. This isn’t a matter of some misconstrued context. This is a matter of young adults willfully breaking the law and harming other young adults intentionally. These things do not foster comradery, they forster pain. Lots and lots of unnecessary pain. There are plenty of other organizations that effectively build comradery without breaking the law. Those are who you should be looking to for examples of what comradery really means
“It’s boys being boys”
Unfortunately, that’s because they were taught it was acceptable to act barbaric and you allowed that to happen as parents and a community. There are plenty of young men who do not engage in this behavior, lots more of them then ones acting like this, so these boys aren’t actually being typical boys they are being miscreants and need to be taught the correct way to act as human beings which doesn’t include assaulting and raping their fellow classmates.
The response by the school to the police report was to cancel the season.
There were lots of reasons alluded to from rather than potentially put more students at risk for continued hazing and possible retaliation in situations the school would not have the appropriate ability to monitor to football is a privilege, not a right, and the students on the whole were no longer deserving of such a privilege.
The responses I saw by the students and parents in the community?
“It’s all blown out of proportion.”
Somehow I think the innocent kids that were hazed would beg to differ. To me, this was the exact right action. There are a large number of students involved already between those implicated in the hazing and those who were hazed which expanded to all levels of the sport in the school. This isn’t isolated so the response shouldn’t be isolate either. It’s exactly the right proportion, especially when coupled with the forthcoming criminal and civil charges these students should have to answer for their involvement either directly or indirectly (being party to the crime / not reporting it).
“A lot of the students (effected by the cancellation) who are innocent, they’re suffering.”
Another classic priorities are backwards statement. The real, true, and consolable suffering is by those who were physically, sexually and emotionally abused through the hazing. Until you understand that point and are sympathetic to it it’s impossible for me to take any such statement like above seriously. That statement so misplaced it’s embarrassing again to realize it comes from an adult who should know better and who probably still has not yet approached their own child to understand if they were involved and what they may have known and didn’t report. By taking the selfish road as many have and made the consequences of this incident about themselves rather than the victims it’s disrespectful of not only these victims but the abused everywhere.
“I think the parents might be more upset than the kids, because this might be these kids’ future … and it seems like because of a couple of kids, the whole team is being punished.”
This is a traumatic experience the victims will have to live with for the rest of their lives. What do you think the right thing to do would have been? Let the season continue and the abused be harmed more? Seriously, did you miss the part were it was pervasive and systemic throughout the entire football community in the school?? But no, I’m sorry to say that missing a year of football is not the end of the world or the end of their futures, even for the seniors who might be graduating, because if that were indeed the case maybe the academic standing of the school is even worse off than the actual mediocre numbers seem to point to.
Some of the complaints were coming from marching band members, the cheer leading squad and some of the other organizations that depend on the foot ball game attendance to run their own fund raisers during. As a former marching band member, I’m sympathetic to how devastating losing those performances and that fund raising opportunity would be. However, as a human being who has mutual respect for other human beings I think even my self-absorbed adolescent self would have comprehended the gravity of the situation and understood the bigger picture of what’s happening. It saddens me reading the quotes in the local paper to think that there’s a generation of kids growing up without an appropriate level of what that empathy means.
Assuming the band and cheerleaders didn’t know anything about any of the hazing (something I find entirely too difficult to believe at face value) there is plenty the school and the community could still do for those kids.
The band already is a part of the Tournament of Bands competitive association through that have the opportunity to perform weekly throughout the season. They could expand into other regional competitive field groups if they wanted throughout the rest of the school year or become a parade band on the side making appearances either competitively or casually in that manner. They could also shift their sports related performances to other sports that aren’t usually graced with the pomp and circumstance the Varsity football team was afforded by the marching band. The community itself could also look into other opportunities to hire the marching band to perform which would both increase the performances for the students and make up for whatever possible lost fund raising revenues might have occurred by the lack of a varsity football season.
The cheerleader squad could also look into competitive cheering opportunities in the region as a way to showcase their skills on a regular basis as well as likewise expand their sports related performances to other teams throughout the year that wouldn’t normally have cheering but could still benefit from the increased school spirit. Who knows, maybe with the community rallying around the cause the cheerleaders too could pick up some performances as well.
As for any other student group or other organization who would have fund raised around football, now’s the chance for the community to step up and donate money to them to and these groups can find other productive ways to participate in the community without piggy backing on a corrupt football program.
And, to those select few innocent football players if there really are any, they can look into playing on a community team to pick up the reps if one exists. They can still possibly play other sports to stay active. Perhaps there’s a way they can be put on loan to another regional school to participate if it’s proven they really were innocent so they don’t those that year needlessly. Or, perhaps
Maybe all the above mentioned groups can rally their unique skills and abilities and do something productive and proactive for the victims themselves which would be the ultimate way to deal with the situation rather than take the pity me self-serving approach to the loss of the football team. It would show amazing maturity and I’m sure be appreciated by not only those directly impacted by the hazing but every kid that’s dealt with some kind of harassment to know that the community was inspired to rally around them instead of whine about the fact that they were abused.
So far, that last point hasn’t happened because the dominant response throughout continues to be overtly pro-sports and anti-victims as it has in every other town these type of horrible events happen in.
The fact that defense of what should be indefensible actions keeps coming up over and over again is a real indictment of the crappy society we are producing and it’s a sickening implication of the human condition. Be it these idiots defending the program in light of hazing or the ones in Hutchinson High School in Kansas or the LA Public School hazing in 2012 or the rapes of young women by sports team members in places like Stuebenville OH, Spanish Fort High School in AL, Torrington CT, Maryville MO and so on, it’s pervasive. There are real world consequences to your actions and if you don’t learn that well in High School sports then you end up with a culture that produces hazing problems like what we saw with the Miami Dolphins last year or the Minnesota Vikings a few years back to Cam Cleeland’s incident with New Orleans where excessive hazing has wading into illegal activities as well as the whole domestic violence problem that keeps rearing it’s ugly head for the league. It’s because of parents like these supporting programs that are inherently flawed and defending the kids, even the so called innocent once, that the problem continues to be as pervasive as it is at all levels of sports.
The more we try and defend these incidents, and try to normalize them by saying, ‘oh but everyone’s been bullied or hazed,’ or it’s the way these groups build comradely, or it’s ‘boys being boys’ / ‘teenagers being teenagers’ or that it wasn’t indented to harm it was just in good fun the more harm we are doing to ourselves as a society. It is all completely BS as excuses and we all know it. It’s a selfish motivation driving these things, if it wasn’t a heralded football team being the center of the contravercy maybe the outcome is less misdirected and contrived ‘outrage’ but the fact of the matter is most of the finger pointing is a direct result of sports taking priority over the health and well being of people.
Think about it, if you (or your kid) were the victim how would you really feel after being assaulted, raped encouraged to kill yourself? Would you still be standing in defense of the perpetrators of this inhumane deeds? Would it make it more ok they defiled and abused you just because they were sports players and some kind of degenerate local “hero”?