It's not news that high school teams are known for hazing new players. But last weekend, one team in Pennsylvania took the malpractice way too far.
On Sunday, two high school seniors on the varsity soccer team duct-taped 16-year-old Austin Babinsack to a goalpost, tried to snap some photos and left him at Highlands High School in Harrison Township for an off-duty state trooper to find later.
This would be bad enough on its own, but Babinsack is also autistic. "He was terrified," said his mother, Kristie Babinsack. "He could have died, he could have had a heart attack from being so stressed out. He was screaming at the top of his lungs."
The two players and the coach have been suspended, but in a statement through their attorney, the Babinsack family told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the duct-taping was "a long-standing ritual with the team, but they did not know about it until it happened to their son." The school board solicitor said that "district officials had heard that it [the duct-taping] may have happened before."
This is one of two high school sports hazing incidents that have surfaced just this week, and these won't be the last. According to an Alfred University study, hazing among high schoolers is most prevalent in sporting environments, account for nearly one-quarter of reported incidents.
It's not just happening in high schools either; it's rampant at the college and professional levels as well.
Last year San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Jonathan Martin accused teammate Richie Incognito of some high-level hazing while they were with the Miami Dolphins.
Martin's allegations were largely backed up by a scathing report by lawyer Ted Wells, asserting that Incognito used racial epithets against Martin, as well as deploying sexual references about Martin's sister and mother.
On the college level, the University of North Carolina suspended four players last month after their violent actions allegedly led to a freshman suffering a possible concussion, as if the game itself wasn't dangerous enough.
Studies show that hazing and hateful conduct are actually detrimental to the cohesiveness of a team, sports or otherwise. So much for shared experiences and team bonding through suffering.
Though Babinsack seems to be facing further backlash from his team for "snitching," no one should have to choose between personal safety and group acceptance. Let's hope these events won't turn him away from a sport that he dearly loves.