HOUSTON – This year, about a million kids in the United States played high school football, and for a select few, like 14-year-old Rodney King, Junior, it was a traumatic life-altering experience. King had just been promoted to the varsity team at his Mobile, Alabama, high school. His initiation included a beating so severe he needed surgery to repair his arm.
Video: Alabama hazing caught on camera
His parents are now suing the district for $12 million. "It's not about the money it's the fact that my child could have lost his life he could be paralyzed right now, “said Rodney King, King's father.
Hazing is a problem across the country
Across the country, it appears the issue of hazing in high school sports is an authentic and pervasive problem. "Between 200 and 250 hazings occur each week in the United States, I think that's a problem,” said B. Elliot Hopkins, Director of Sports, Sanctioning and Student Services at the National Federation of State High School Associations. Among the 13,000 school districts in the US, you find an inconsistent patchwork of policies and protocols. NFSHSA is trying to fix that providing uniform training on the topic to athletic directors and coaches.
"I think the schools that are successful have identified the best way and the most intentional way to welcome new members to their team," said Hopkins. He added, "to be a part of a team should not have to hurt."
This season, two football players at La Vernia High School, near San Antonio, were arrested for sexual assault, and eleven others were criminally charged after a young team member was allegedly raped with a broomstick. That disturbing ritual is not a one-off. The same suspected crime popped up at a high school in Maryland in 2018. Four students were charged as adults and face up to life in prison.
"These boys were victims of criminal acts, they were not victims of hazing, they were victims of first-degree rapes and attempted rapes, Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said.
Channel 2 Investigates examined incidents across the nation and found that since 2010 no less than 18 states have reported cases of sexually-based high school hazing incidents.
Montgomery HS Hazing Case
In Montgomery, Texas, what happened in September 2019 is finally clearer. The County Attorney’s office calls it a hazing initiation with seven victims, five suspects and a variety of foreign objects. Everyone was fully clothed. It has not been classified as a sex crime.
"These are all boys who would know they would never do this to a female student," said Marc Brumberger, Chief of the Juvenile Division, for the Montgomery County Attorney's Office. He added, "they would never do that or think of doing that. They know it's inappropriate and illegal and yet they see it as fun and games."
According to Brumberger the boys will be offered a deal: informal probation. "That is certainly a favor for them not having a record that will haunt them into their future but that's what the victims’ families want in this case. They don't want us to harm these kids or these children that are their kids' friends." said Brumberger. If the teen suspects don't comply, they'll be charged under the Texas hazing statute which would be a misdemeanor.
44 states and the District of Columbia have anti-hazing laws on the books. Texas changed its version just this year. It provides immunity to whistleblowers and strengthens reporting requirements. But Texas high schools are exempt from the reporting rule. Only colleges are required to notify students of hazing incidents on campus. Adult supervision or lack therefore is almost always a factor in these cases. Brumberger said it played a role in the Montgomery incident.
Tuesday night at 10 p.m., what one Houston-area team is doing to crack down on that lack of supervision, plus what’s really driving these crimes, and can we stop it.
Hazing deaths database: Unofficial hazing clearinghouse & watchdog site
Channel 2 Investigates is peeling back the pageantry of high school football to take an in-depth look at a hazing case in Montgomery and high school hazing across Texas and the country.