Boys varsity soccer punished for hazing

On Monday, Sept. 16, the LOHS administration launched an investigation into an alleged hazing incident after some of the newest members of the boys varsity soccer team chose to have their heads shaved after being warned not to by the administration. Ultimately, the administration gave one player a day of in-school suspension and suspended multiple players from playing the first half of their game on Tuesday, Sept. 17. 

Parents and players alike maintain that the soccer team’s tradition of cutting hair is not an instance of hazing. They point to both past precedent and this year’s events as evidence that the boys should not be punished for hazing.

For about 10 years, the boys varsity soccer team has had a tradition of giving its new recruits eccentric haircuts or shaving their heads at the start of the season. According to the team, players are not forced to participate, but many choose to shave their heads as a physical symbol of their accomplishment of making the team. 

The tradition has a longstanding precedent of being begrudgingly tolerated by the administration; this is the first year in its history that it has faced any real administrative backlash. The administration released a statement in an email to parents, players and coaches at the start of the soccer season which can be boiled down to the line “We want to be clear that no members of our team should take part in any initiation or team-affiliation activities that lead to people changing their appearance, their bodies, or their hair or participating in any pranks or other actions that could adversely affect the mental or physical health or safety of themselves or others.”

The email concluded with an ominous message: “In the event something does happen like haircuts, tattoos, etc, we will need to investigate it. During this investigation, we will also more than likely have to suspend students until the investigation is complete. Please talk with your students about this as we will take these things VERY SERIOUSLY.”

All of the school’s statements implicate its definition of hazing, which is relatively vague. In essence, it reads, “‘Hazing’ includes, but is not limited to, any act that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental health, physical health or safety of a student/staff for the purpose of initiation or as a condition or precondition of attaining membership in, or affiliation with, any district-sponsored/work activity or grade level attainment… [It also includes] activities intended to degrade or humiliate. It is not a defense against hazing that the student subjected to hazing consented to or appeared to consent to the hazing.”

Bearing the school’s hazing policy in mind, the team went to great measures so that the haircuts would not be classified as hazing. They allegedly obtained video consent from all parents and players involved prior to the hair-cutting event. They also waited (for three weeks and six days after the teams were selected) to give the haircuts so that they would not be viewed as a “precondition” to being accepted onto varsity. In addition, they purportedly made it clear that there would be no physical or social consequences for any players opting not to get their hair cut. The team and parents emphasized the idea that the haircuts are a personal choice and not a mandate.

This year, this notion of autonomy was exemplified when two boys opted out of this season’s head-shaving. One chose to do very discrete detailing on the back of his head instead, and the other left his hair untouched entirely. Allegedly, neither received any backlash from the team. 

Class of 2019 graduate Anthony Intraversato shared a very similar story. As a freshly recruited varsity player a few years back, he didn’t want to shave his head. “I told them [the team] I didn’t want to get my hair cut,” he said, “and they listened and didn’t force me to.” 

Intraversato also stated, “I don’t feel like it’s hazing because every person gets a choice and they aren’t excluded from anything if they don’t choose to get their hair cut.”

Consent from the player does not necessarily declassify an event as “hazing” per LOSD’s definition. However, these experiences do not speak to a culture where the haircuts are “intended to degrade or humiliate.” Players openly choosing not to receive haircuts and not receiving physical or social ramifications for doing so is not a typical hallmark of hazing. 

There is also reason to question the school’s tacit assertion that the haircuts “recklessly or intentionally endanger[ed] the mental health, physical health or safety” of any player. 

According to a statement signed by 28 parents and players and submitted to the administration, “No one was cut or threatened with scissors, razors or other tools. Not one varsity player nor parent notified you [administration] of endangerment mentally or physically nor stated their safety was in peril. Nor has anyone suggested endangerment when interviewed.”

The joint statement and evidence of player and parent consent did not seem to affect the administration’s decision; it proceeded with the punishments, continuing to cite its initial statement from the beginning of the year that forbid the cutting of hair.

According to one player who was disciplined for “hazing,” the administration has been “inconsistent on its punishment.” 

“For the past eight-plus years there has been no punishment for doing the haircuts,” the player, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. “Prevention has been the same every year; the only thing that changed this year was the punishment.”

“If the administration had wanted to send a message, it could’ve just given me a warning that this year was different and we would’ve stopped the haircuts,” he said. “Now, this has to go on my permanent record.”

In addition, the player recalled that a member of the administration had advised him against interviewing for the article. The administrator allegedly claimed that the university to which the player wishes to apply receives copies of Lake Views and implied that appearing in the article would negatively impact his chances of getting in.

The player concluded, “[I received an] undeserved, irreversible, and future-obstructing punishment because of the school’s failure to properly communicate their message to the team.”

The LOHS administration declined to comment on the incident.