Intimidation and Empowerment in High School Sports

Intimidation and Empowerment in High School Sports

Grace Shallow, Columnist


The Shallow End

Opinion Column 

          On October 7, 2014, the football season was cancelled at Sayreville War Memorial High School due to suspicious activity. On Friday, October 10, 2014, the seven young men at Sayreville War Memorial High School were officially charged with sex crimes for several separate incidents that occurred in September; the school and police immediately began to investigate hazing within the football program.  What is important to note about this case is not just the technicalities of the crime; it is the mentality the players must have possessed to commit such acts against their teammates. Sports have taken a place in American society that is impossible to ignore. Due to the passion fans have as they scream for defense, the paint they slather all over their body, or the heated rivalries that run deeper than the color of the jerseys on their back, sports have become the center of many social atmospheres and a source of entertainment for millions of ticket holders. The passion of sports is not contained to just the professional level though. Sports find a younger audience in high schools, colleges, or Pop Warner leagues.

The question that many seem to forget to ask is: how does this prolonged attention affect the players? Perhaps the amount of importance we tack on to sports is giving sports players a sense of power over others or the sense that they have the ability to evade rules that average people must abide by. Perhaps the mentality that Americans have towards sports is putting young kids on a pedestal that they cannot handle.

On Cinnaminson High School’s football team, the Cinnaminson Pirates, the player that can relate the best to publicity would be Nick Thevanayagam, the star quarterback that has had a huge helping hand in shaping the Pirates’ successful season. As such an important player, Nick has been interviewed many times for his performance on the field. Therefore, he is very aware of the effect this has on him personally; Nick noted that it is positive because he has the opportunity of being well known in Burlington County as a role model but has its downfalls as well. With all of the attention, Nick realizes that he must be careful about what he does and that he “always [has] to be on guard [with] what you are doing because people [are] looking to point out things you do wrong or things they can use to bring you down.”

In Cinnaminson, the sport that most likely gets the most attention is soccer. The majority of students in Cinnaminson school district have played on a soccer team for at least one year or more, meaning both the boys’ and girls’ high school soccer teams’ seasons get a lot of attention from parents, other students, and teachers. Therefore, the mentality that sports players have regarding popularity is definitely applicable to our soccer teams. When asked to comment on boys’ soccer team and treatment towards each other, Mark Staudenmayer said: “It’s a fine line I guess. There’s joking around and then there’s bullying […] so I think it’s important that we be careful I guess about what we say and how we say it. I think for Cinnaminson we do a really good job of it.”

When asked the same question, senior Delani Pecchioli agreed, however, looking back on her freshman year she noted that the older girls did not blend as well with the younger girls as they do this year. She also commented on the strength of the bond the girls on the team held this year. Hence, it is a yearly battle; the potent chemistry that the team holds one year could be completely lost the next, leaving a sense of uncertainty for any seasoned player or rookie. The shock of such a scandal, in a New Jersey town that is 69 minutes away from Cinnaminson, resonated with many and left the high school football community reeling, including our own football team, the Cinnaminson Pirates.

Sayreville High School
Courtesy of Trip Advisor
Sayreville High School in Sayreville, NJ


However, the impact of Sayreville has not been completely nefarious. After the Sayreville incident became so public, the lack of  discipline in football became an issue that the public was finally aware of, something Nick Thevanayagam commented on. “From the NFL down to high school it shows there needs to be more order and discipline at all levels.”

This scandal also brought to light many hazing incidents of the past; at Livingston High School, more than a decade ago, a member of the junior varsity baseball team was harassed by members of the varsity team who flashed their buttocks and genitalia in his face. In 2001, at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Bergen County, 14 seniors on the girls field hockey team were disciplined due to forcing freshmen teammates to bark like dogs and occurrences of sexual harassment. All incidents of hazing are obviously morally wrong and need to be extinguished for the physical and mental safety of young kids.

So why has Sayreville, NJ gained so much attention in the media while other incidents have been handled quietly and without the eyes of the public burning into the necks of administrators? Such a question can be addressed from the legal perspective, as senior Delani Pecchioli pointed out. HIB (Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying) laws were implemented starting in 2011 after the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who was unknowingly videotaped as he engaged sexually with another man and was harassed for his being gay. These laws have had a lasting effect ever since, making New Jersey one of the most proactive states regarding bullying.

However, Mr. Anthony Faltz, Cinnaminson High School’s crisis counselor, did not think HIB laws had any effect on how this situation was handled legally or in the eyes of the public. “Cases of sexual harassment would not be investigated as a HIB [offense] […] they are dealt with as a discipline, as a criminal act […] this was not what HIB was developed for.”

This statement shows how serious the allegations are, meaning even if the HIB laws were never passed, it is highly likely that such media attention and punishment by law would be at the same degree due to the criminal nature of the acts. Additionally, a cultural shift in the way sexual harassment is viewed cannot be ignored.  As Mark Staudenmayer puts it, “I think the culture has changed a little bit and that we’re more sensitive to this kind of stuff as we should be”. Now, more than ever, sensitivity regarding how the public treats sexual assault is at an all time high. Feminists, in recent months, have been using social media to point out the way society stereotypes and subjugates women with a bias view towards sexual assault against women and statements such as “boys will be be boys.”

That being said, an incident such as the one that occurred at Sayreville War Memorial High School can be used to bring attention to the subject of same-gender sexual assault, specifically male in this case. Despite gender, race, or any social boundaries that people seem to use to block out the issues of others, sexual assault is a traumatizing experience for any person. Incidents such as these express society’s need to forget social expectations to ensure every person is getting the same fair treatment we are promised as American citizens and that the way a situation is handled is not affected by the premise of the general people.

Grace Shallow
Grace Shallow