When I started high school, it was common knowledge among us freshmen that some Grade 12 students were going to throw eggs at us.
It was nothing personal; merely a time-honoured rite of passage all newbies were expected to endure — should we be unlucky enough to get caught outside and unable to escape.
All things considered, it was a relatively mild form of harassment, but let’s be clear: harassment is exactly what it was.
Fast-forward some 20 years and it seems hazing remains alive and well in Manitoba.
A junior A hockey team from Neepawa was catapulted into the national spotlight last week after news broke of a recent incident in which five teenagers were forced by their older teammates to perform degrading acts in the dressing room.
Following an initial investigation by the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, 16 players from the Neepawa Natives were suspended, as were the head coach and assistant coach, and the team was fined $5,000.
According to media reports, the MJHL has since re-opened its investigation upon learning some of the players had lied about the assistant coach’s involvement, the man in question has resigned, and the Neepawa RCMP has begun its own investigation.
Several details about the incident have since been shared by the parents of the 15-year-old boy who first spoke out about what happened to him and others: details about a stripping contest and water-bottle racks tied to naked genitals; details I’m sure some people found lurid and shocking.
I am not one of those people. In fact, that the hazing had sexual overtones — homosexual overtones in particular — did not surprise me one bit.
Though it’s unpleasant to admit, using sexual acts as a means to humiliate and/or harm someone is actually an extremely common practice in our society: it’s called sexual assault and it’s a crime that’s practically endemic given how frequently it’s committed.
Common, too, is homophobia. Despite a noticeable sea change in both public attitudes and public policy, people are still ostracized for being gay. In some cases, they’re tormented for it. Indeed, there is a reason gay teens commit suicide at higher rates than their straight peers and it’s not because being gay makes you unhappy.
Add to these two facts a culture in which boys are taught to express their masculinity as dominance, and the actions of these young hockey players, while upsetting, are predictable.
The question now is how to stop such behaviour.
To its credit, the MJHL has denounced the hazing as "inappropriate and unacceptable" and expressed unequivocal support for the boy who broke ranks and spoke out — a response I think is commendable.
However, I also think there’s a lesson the rest of us can learn from this incident.
Whether it happens in schools, in workplaces, in hockey dressing rooms or on the Internet, harassment is not OK — and all of us can help make sure that message is heard loud and clear.
We can speak up when someone makes a homophobic joke or suggests a victim of sexual assault was somehow to blame for it. We can intervene when someone is being mistreated. We can refuse to accept unacceptable behaviour and recognize that, if we truly want to live in a society without harassment, we need to act accordingly.
Marlo Campbell managed to avoid being egged.