Internet Propels Athlete Hazing Issue to Forefront

Times Staff Writer

Northwestern University took swift action against its women’s soccer team this week after pictures of alleged hazing incidents wound up on the Internet, announcing that it had indefinitely suspended team members from all athletic activities for violating the school’s anti-hazing policy.

But a quick review of the website that posted the pictures,, revealed that the Northwestern women were not alone in carrying out initiation rituals. The university discovered that this week before also punishing the men’s swim team for hazing, as well as students who perform as the school’s mascot.

More than a dozen other college programs were implicated Wednesday when posted pictures from what it reported were athletic and cheerleading initiations from across the country, in sports ranging from baseball to women’s volleyball.


And a study of the site’s archives from the last two months implicated still more college athletic teams and appeared to show that hazing is thriving on college campuses, despite policies prohibiting it.

Among those ensnared by the website in recent weeks, while its researchers accessed pictures from, a public photo-sharing website: the women’s swim team at Loyola Marymount, the women’s softball team at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and the 2004 women’s lacrosse team at UC Santa Barbara.

The hazing incidents might all be happening anyway but in much greater secrecy, if not for the transgressions of wayward sports figures such as Tonya Harding, Marty McSorley and Darryl Strawberry -- and the advent of the Internet., which bills itself as sort of a cross between “Cops” and “SportsCenter,” is the brainchild of Bob Reno of East Lansing, Mich., who said in a phone interview this week that his imagination was fueled on a winter’s day in 2000 -- a day that other sports fans might have found depressing.

“I was inspired by sports-talk radio to create the site,” he said, “because there was a day in February when Tonya Harding had thrown a hubcap at her boyfriend, the Marty McSorley hockey [stick-swinging] incident was big news and Darryl Strawberry got arrested for, well, whatever Darryl usually gets arrested for, and that’s all anybody was talking about on sports-talk radio. It made me wonder if there was a website out there that just had stories along those lines.”

Reno couldn’t find any, he said, “So BadJocks was born.”

At the time, Reno added, “I thought I would be doing O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman, but it’s turned out to be more about high school coaches dating cheerleaders and Little League dads punching out referees.”


And hazing rituals, of course, which “generate a certain amount of interest,” Reno said, “because there’s usually violence or sexuality related to them.”

Within hours of Wednesday’s postings, the Catholic University of America, decrying what it described as a “deplorable situation,” announced that it had launched an investigation of its women’s lacrosse team after a woman identified on the site as a team member was shown in the arms of a man wearing only a thong and identified as a stripper, apparently part of an initiation.

The Loyola Marymount women were sanctioned “quickly and harshly” last month, Athletic Director Bill Husak said this week, after pictures were posted in April showing veteran team members allegedly hazing first-year athletes.

Punishment included athletes’ suspensions and cancellation of a trip to Hawaii next season. Some of the photos, which Husak said were taken last November, showed team members allegedly drinking alcohol. Others showed women with sexual innuendos written on their clothing and bodies, though none showed them blindfolded or with hands tied behind their backs, as the Northwestern photos showed.

“There was no athlete who really felt that hazing was involved,” Husak said, “but certainly, by the definition, I think hazing may have occurred, even though they didn’t feel like anything was hazing; it was more of a party.”

No coaches were sanctioned.

“Our coaches are not responsible 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the behavior of our student-athletes,” Husak said. “Our student-athletes have to assume responsibility for their own behavior.”


Officials at Loyola Marymount, which prohibits the use of drugs or alcohol for all student-athletes, were “caught off-guard and disappointed” when the pictures surfaced on the Internet, Husak said.

So were administrators at UC Santa Barbara, where Dean of Students Yonie Harris said this week that the university would “investigate vigorously” to determine whether hazing took place among members of the school’s 2004 women’s lacrosse team and whether it had continued the last two years.

“If we find that anything is amiss, we will take appropriate disciplinary action,” Harris said Wednesday after incriminating photos were posted earlier in the day.

The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s softball team was allowed to play out the final week of its schedule last month after pictures of a January party surfaced on the Internet in the middle of April. But individual players, some of whom were shown allegedly drinking alcohol, faced disciplinary hearings for violating a code of conduct.

As part of their punishment they must prepare case studies to be used in educating fellow students about the potential dangers of hazing.

“What I would like to see is where we go from here,” Athletic Director Mike Sutton said Thursday. “I felt that it was important that we cease and desist with this activity and try to use this as a teachable moment with our teams.”


Reno, the Badjocks publisher, said that he recently happened upon photographic evidence of several hazing incidents while researching claims of sexual misconduct against the Duke lacrosse team.

Not surprisingly, his site has generated its share of hate mail. Some has been posted by Reno, who said that he is a thirtysomething college graduate -- “I’d prefer not to give out my exact age” -- with a degree in communications.

“Take that ... off about CMS,” read one recent posting, referring to the alleged incident involving the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s softball team. “All you are trying to do is get people in trouble. Are you upset because you didn’t have fun at college or because you were too ... dumb to go?”

But psychologist Susan Lipkins -- a hazing expert whose website, inside, is linked to -- says that Reno should be commended.

“I think the service that Bob has done is to awaken what I call the sleepy giant of the sports world and the university system: that hazing is alive and well in America,” Lipkins said.

“We have focused often on fraternities, but there is a lot of hazing that occurs in high school athletics and college athletics and I feel like the athletic directors and the coaches really have not taken the issue seriously.”


Colleen McGlone, a University of New Mexico professor, recently surveyed more than 5,000 Division I women student-athletes in all sports and reported that more than 48% said they had been hazed. Thirty-one percent said they had witnessed hazing on their teams and more than 33% said they’d taken part.

A small sampling of local college athletes confirmed that hazing is far from dead on campus, despite the best efforts of coaches and administrators.

Lipkins called hazing a “lose-lose situation” for everybody.

“Often when hazing is found out, the coach loses his job, the team loses its season, kids often lose their scholarships,” she said. “The perpetrators can end up in jail, the victims in the hospital or morgue and the university in court....

“Hazing is for losers.”

Judging by the pictures posted on the Internet, Lipkins added, hazing might look like fun.

“But what we don’t see,” she added, “are the kids who maybe fell down the stairs and broke their heads or the kids who maybe ended up in the ER with alcohol poisoning or ended up in bed with somebody they don’t know and don’t remember.”


Staff writers Dan Arritt, Martin Henderson and Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.