An instructor at the University of Northern Iowa is hoping the publicity surrounding several recent hazing incidents in Iowa schools serves as a “wake up call” to coaches, athletes and others about the problem. Jennifer Waldron, and associate professor of health, physical education and leisure services, has conducted several studies on hazing or bullying in sports.

Waldron says many athletes she interviewed perceived hazing as just harmless fun, when in reality, the conduct could be illegal. “There’s also huge a social acceptance and social pressure…so many athletes talk about, ‘it’s not something I wanted to do, but I wanted to be seen as a real teammate or I wanted to be accepted by my teammates, so I went through it even though I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with or it made me stressed out,’ or there are other ramifications of it,” Waldron said.

Waldron said some athletes she questioned noted their coaches even played a role hazing, while others enforced a strict, no tolerance policy toward such activity. “Most of the athletes said their coach knew that hazing was going on, but as long as no one got hurt and there were no ill consequences the coach heard about, then it would be okay,” Waldron said.

Hazing or bullying cases involving high school wrestling team have surfaced in Iowa this season. In at least three cases, criminal charges have been filed. “I’m hoping that, we in the state, use this as a teachable moment and try to be proactive before more cases break,” Waldron said.

Waldron has given lectures at anti-hazing workshops and is currently collecting data on better prediction methods in initiation rituals among sports teams.