Does STU athletics tolerate a culture of abuse in the name of team bonding?
Holly Patterson will never forget the bus ride from Amherst to Truro with Tommies soccer players. Two years ago, Patterson was on the women’s soccer team at STU. She says the captains thought it would be “fun” for female players to strip off their clothes and parade down the aisles of the bus. The female students were then seated next to male teammates—some women only in underwear.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” says Patterson, who turned up her music and tried to ignore what was going on.
Perhaps most disturbingly, the two coaches on the bus did nothing to stop young students from parading in their underwear.
But by then Patterson had learned not to expect much support from the athletics department at STU.
When Patterson was a rookie on the STU soccer team she decided not to participate in hazing. Even though she was told there would be no negative consequences, she was ostracized by her team, benched by her coach and reprimanded by the administration. Two years later, athletes say it’s no secret or surprise that initiations and rookie parties still happen at STU. As Patterson discovered, whistleblowers are more likely to be punished than hazers.
But before all that Patterson was excited to be part of a team. She was prepared to prove herself on the soccer field but was surprised when her captain organized a rookie party.
Rookies, who made up one third of the roster, were given T-shirts with nicknames and told to fill them with phone numbers from guys on campus. Patterson’s moniker was “Acuvue” because she wore contact lenses. But she says rookies on rugby team were given nicknames like “buck-a-fuck” and “I smell like fish.”
When Patterson told her captain she wasn’t comfortable with the initiation, she was reassured there would be no repercussions. But the following practice her teammates gave her the cold shoulder.
Things went from bad to worse when her boyfriend wrote a letter to the Aquinian bashing rookie parties on campus. The director of athletics told Patterson that her boyfriend had no right to tell the school about initiations on STU teams.
“I said this shouldn’t be happening and she said, ‘Well they’re athletes, they can take it,’” says Patterson.
Her coach told her she should “make an effort to bond with the team” and she was she was benched for the next five games.
Both the director of athletics and the soccer coach who Patterson interacted with have since moved on and no longer work for from St. Thomas University.
Even though STU has a strict anti-hazing policy Patterson says her teammates didn’t face any consequences for their actions.
According to one researcher, Patterson is not alone. Most university athletes go through some form of hazing.
Ryan Hamilton, a Ph. D. student at the University of New Brunswick, spoke to more than 300 athletes from 27 schools across the Maritimes. He says 86 per cent of them had been hazed. More than half of these athletes had been yelled at, cursed at, or made to participate in drinking contests as part of their initiation into university sports.
Some athletes believe that the shared experience of hazing brings teams together. For others, hazing is about reinforcing a hierarchy where veterans are on top and rookies are at the bottom. But whatever the rationalization, Hamilton says there’s no good reason for hazing.
According to Hamilton hazing is any activity that degrades, humiliates or abuses a person, regardless of that person’s consent. Male rookies are often made to dress up in women’s clothing and players are sometimes paddled as part of hazing.
Patterson says rookies in past years have been made to mimic sexual acts with each other and videos of this were even posted online.
“I am firmly against hazing. I think that there’s no utility to it outside the opportunity for veteran athletes to demonstrate their power and to be entertained by what they can make people do.”
While hazing-related deaths are rare, Hamilton says many initiations result in injury or stress for the victims of hazing.
After the sudden death of one STU student, administrators are looking into allegations of hazing. As of now, cause of death is not known, but police have ruled out foul play. The school’s investigation will include a full review of athletic policies. Spokesperson Jeffery Carlton says until the school’s investigation is complete, STU administrators will not comment on the school’s hazing policy.
For some STU athletes initiation just doesn’t happen.
“We just don’t feel like it’s needed for any part of our development as a cohesive team, “says Matt Sheriko, a fourth-year member of the cross-country team. “A lot of people will argue that hazing is about bringing the team closer together, but when it comes down to it I really don’t buy that.”
Sheriko says the cross-country team has found other ways to bond. “We hang out and party like any other group of friends.”
Recent research shows that hazing is actually detrimental to team chemistry.
Hamilton says presenting teams with information and alternatives is essential step in stopping hazing.
“If all you have is a policy without promoted alternatives and your policy doesn’t address why hazing occurs, I think you end up with secret hazing,” he says. Adventure-based learning, field trips and volunteering are other the ways teams can bond.
While some STU athletes admit rookie parties happen, they say no one is forced to participate.
Josh Dooley, a fourth-year rugby player, says his teammates respected his wish not to drink at rookie parties.
“It’s more like a fun gathering, nothing too strict. I don’t drink myself and I always tell the players you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Saying no wasn’t an option for Patterson. She never did resolve things with her teammates.
“They made me feel like I didn’t deserve to be there, but I did. I worked just as hard as everybody else to get there,” she says. “If I ever wore the jacket and they saw me in it, I would feel ashamed.”
Now she can finally wear her Tommies jacket proudly. “If anything they should feel ashamed for what they did. I was just trying to play soccer.”