October 14, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
What would you do if your kid was a victim of sexual assault? What if your kid was the one doing the assaulting?
Well, District Superintendent Richard Labbe, has, by his own admission, a “very difficult, very important” decision to make. Rocked by allegations of criminal sexual assault by Sayreville War Memorial High School football team members upon fellow players, Dr. Labbe has already canceled the remaining games of this season.
Now this year’s season-ending cancellation could turn into a permanent ban.
In other words, the championship teams of this small, football-frenzied community could be just that, a thing of the past. Never again.
And this apparent “hazing” gone wrong, criminally wrong, has this town more riled up than ever. More so, even when it faced cross-town rival, Middlesex HS for football bragging rights.
“Much ado about nothing,” says one parent. “Punishing the whole team and town for a few bad apples.” says another. Matt Stanmyre, a local sports reporter says that many of the townspeople still disagree with the decision and it has “torn the town apart.”
Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carrey begs to, no, demands to, differ.
Based on the experiences of at least 4 victims, all first-year football players, this was not a case of “boys being boys.” Unless of course, the “boys” in question are sadistic, violent criminals.
Because, yeah, according to the prosecutor things were that bad inside the locker room. A loving parents’ nightmare to be sure.
Apparently, the “ringleaders” of the hazing were all senior players. They would shut the lights off then howl like wolves and “pounce” upon an unwilling and unsuspecting first-year teammate. The “hazing” would then begin. This would involve the victim being physically held down and restrained while another “wolf” would sexually assault the victim. This criminal behavior included forced oral and anal penetration and improper sexual touching. Some of the players claim that the seniors would even shove their fingers into the mouth of their victim after using those same fingers to conduct such assault and bodily, anal penetration. One player who attempted to break away from such an assault was kicked by several of his fellow players until he “took it like a man.”
The first-year players all “lived in fear” every day of football practice said a parent of one of the victims.
I guess so. How any of them could even function on a day to day basis let along study playbooks and have to be alongside such abusive and sadistic individuals is unfathomable to me.
And not something that anyone, boy or girl, should have to endure. Of that I am certain.
All of the students involved ranged in ages 15-17. So, now it will be up to the prosecutor and the courts whether they will be charged as adults or juveniles. If charged and convicted as adults, those found guilty would then do jail time. Real time. And not in a juvenile detention center or half-way home, as some in the community are arguing would be more appropriate.
Aside from the charges and upcoming legal process the fallout continues, collectively and individually.
As a town, this local, football-loving community of Sayreville will never be the same. Whether football comes back next season or is shut-down for good, the innocence, the unbridled joy in cheering for the team on Friday nights is gone. Even if the program is gutted and all new faces and coaches replace the current ones, the questions will remain, the suspicion will linger.
Ironically, or maybe very fittingly, Penn State University, which knows far too well the stench of scandal, announced it was withdrawing the football scholarship of Myles Hartsfield, a senior running back at the high school. Even the whiff of more sexual scandal is, let’s face it, the last thing PSU needs now.
Players who are now all grown-up with kids of their own, fondly remember playing for the current Sayreville football coach George Najjar. “Sure,” says one of the alums, “Some hazing went on, but it was mostly paddling…harmless stuff.” “I doubt coach knew,” added another.
But, he should have known even if he didn’t actually know. As someone in responsibility for both the teaching and safety of teen-age boys, “Coach” doesn’t get a free pass. Not knowing or maybe knowing and looking the other way when it comes to locker-room hazing, especially the kind that turns into criminal, sexual assault, is no excuse. Kids of all ages are pretty street-smart. They size up adults and situations very fast. And if you are an “absentee adult” either at home, in school or inside the locker room, some, not all, but some, will make you and others pay dearly for your “benign neglect.”
Look, I don’t profess to understand hazing. I blogged about fraternity hazing a few months ago that ended with a male pledge dead from blows to the head by his fellow “brothers for life.” Then and now I get the role alcohol may play in dizzying some otherwise good kids into doing things they wouldn’t do sober.
But. Still. I don’t get the sexual sadism, the brutality, the sheer vicious behavior that some are still trying to condone as “boys will be boys” style hazing.
It’s not and never will be.
This isn’t snapping a towel here or there and trading “your mama” jokes.
If what is being alleged is true then it is criminal sexual assault. And this has no place in our society or locker rooms. Whether it be girls or in this case, boys, as victims. For too long, we seem to come out trumpets blaring when such abuse is directed at girls and we tend to downplay it when it comes to our young men. “Take it like a man,” we seem to be echoing by our own societal indifference or lack of aggressive follow-up what the “wolves” yelled at their teammate victims.
I do feel bad for the good folks and families at Sayreville whose kids just wanted to play football and whom they just wanted to be there in the stands cheering them on.
The problem was no one was there for them off the field for far too long. No one was protecting them, not from tough tackles from the other team but from vicious sexual assaults at the hands of the own teammates.
And that is the real tragedy here. Not whether or not football is banned for good at Sayreville War Memorial High School.
Recently, some of the townspeople held a rally with balloons, stickers and ribbons on behalf of the victims in this case. Now, moving forward, far from the media, the hoopla, the ribbons, I hope parents and kids of this town get together privately and talk about what happened. And why it is wrong and utterly unacceptable. And how to make sure something like this never happens again.
Then, regardless of whether SWM HS ever raises another championship banner again they will have turned this “loss” into a victory for kids everywhere.