The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that to bully is “to cause (someone) to do something by using threats or insults or by using force” (1). No one set a better example of this than Miami Dolphins lineman, Richie Incognito. After over a year of allegedly bullying Dolphins starting right tackle, Jonathan Martin, Incognito was finally “suspended for detrimental conduct” and Martin walked away from the team, with no promise of return (2).
As exemplified by these professional athletes, a bullying culture can be inherent in certain sports, programs, and teams as well as in college athletics. The fine line between hazing and bullying is dangerously thin, often resulting in confusion and unfortunate repercussions for all athletes involved. Although the NCAA released a hazing handbook, “Building New Traditions: Hazing Prevention in College Athletics,” the grim truth is that this problem of bullying isn’t going to fix itself overnight. The good news, however, is that there are steps you can take during your athletic recruiting process that will enable you to assess whether a program’s people and its culture will create a comfortable, positive environment-one that’s free from any bullying or harassment. Below is a list of tips that will help you evaluate each program in this key area:
- Do your research! It’s important to identify any past or present bullying issues. This may include something as simple as searching the web for any “red flag” incidents at the school or it may require a little more digging, like contacting alumni or athletes who quit or left the team. They may help provide a more balanced perspective of the school and program on several key levels about any issues related to the team.
Consider also researching the following:
- Search the school’s website for harassment, bullying or nondiscrimination policies.
- Inquire about clubs or committees for student-athletes that deal with athlete welfare, like the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee or SAAC and their policies and reporting process.
- Talk to your club team and high school coaches and Athletic Director. They may have some insight into the colleges that are recruiting you. Ask them about any past harassment or hazing problems the school may have had. Might they think it still exists? Do they have recommendations on ways to learn more about underlying issues?
- Talk with the head and assistant coaches of the programs recruiting you. Discussing issues such as bullying can often be uncomfortable, but it’s a good idea to ask them about any issues the team has had with bullying, either in the past or present. If they offer up some examples, inquire about how these problems were addressed and handled. It’s also critical to obtain the coaches’ stance on the issue and their policies related to it as well as the rules and regulations the team is required to follow.
- Visit the school. Being on campus and interacting with athletes, coaches, students, faculty, and administrators will provide you with the opportunity to ask questions and get a feel for the school and program. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the team member who hosted you on a recruiting trip. You can ask them questions about team dynamics, what rules they have to follow and/or what the general attitude is on bullying. By opening up to them with questions, they will be more likely to open up to you with answers. Be mindful of body language, eye contact, and ease of response which will provide a level of truthfulness to the answers of those responding to your inquiries (whether they be a coach, athlete or other student).
- Talk to the schools’ AD or an Athletic Administrator. Attain department philosophy, policies, reporting procedures, and process related to bullying, harassment, and hazing. Inquire about incident reporting and the school’s investigative process. Is the athlete respected and protected should an incident arise?
Dealing with the reality of bullying is not something that should be ignored and in the end, you’ll be glad you handled it upfront. By taking proactive measures like those listed above, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable athletic environment on your potential college team. After all, to be a “team” is to work together to achieve a common goal. By having bullying thrown into the mix, nothing but negative tension, division and unfavorable outcomes will result in your athletic and overall college experience. So do your self a favor- ask the right questions, do thorough research and talk to the right people. With just the right amount of effort you will set your self up for the best possible experience in college athletics.