" The good, the bad and the ugly in Sayreville"
Horror of sexual violence in a high school locker room generates positive response amid all the negativity
The lights in the locker room suddenly shut off, and upperclassmen pinned down a freshman football player, lifted him to his feet while forcing a finger in his rectum – afterwards, the same finger would sometimes be pushed into the freshman’s mouth.
This horrifying tradition allegedly happened almost every day in the school’s locker room.
That’s the ugly – the reprehensible, the repulsive, the “how could this have been happening in a high school locker room” – the details of the sexual violence that became ritual among senior members of Sayreville War Memorial High School’s football team.
Seven players have been charged with crimes ranging from aggravated sexual assault to criminal restraint for their roles in the violent, ritualistic attacks – let’s not reduce it to “hazing,” because this goes beyond connotations of teasing and pranks, and veers closer to rape.
And now, the bad: Players would change in the hallway before practice. Afterward, they would sprint to the locker room to try and get dressed before the seniors arrived. They did all they could to avoid the assaults that it seems were common knowledge among the students.
The bystander effect appears to be alive and well in Sayreville, as months of practices and subsequent attacks went on before the story broke on Oct. 3.
The level of knowledge among the team’s coaches is, at this point, unknown. At the very least, the adults who were supposed to be managing this team failed in their roles as leaders, supervisors and protectors.
But among all this ugliness, there is some good – amidst a story as shocking and disturbing as this one, it’s a relief the reaction to these allegations has been swift and severe.
The seven accused players were taken into custody and charged and could be tried as adults. The gravity of their alleged crimes and the clear need for discipline is not being questioned.
And even more impressively, when news of the assaults broke, the entire football season was canceled swiftly, despite Sayreville’s status as a well-known football town that sends athletes to college on athletic scholarships.
There has been, for once, a clear prioritization of the safety of students and the investigation into the details of the events that transpired in the high school’s locker room over the success of a prosperous athletic program – in an era of Jameis Winston and Penn State, this reaction is refreshingly ethical.
Unlike similar scandals, there are heroes as well as villains at play here – as much as the guilty parties deserve to face harsh penalties, there are others whose actions have been commendable and even heroic.
To the district superintendent, Richard Labbe, who was the driving force behind the season cancelation – thank you for showing the victims of these crimes that they matter more than football.
To the many parents and community members who have hailed this decision and organized a vigil to show their support for the victims of these incidents – thank you for setting an example.
And, most importantly, to the victims who were brave enough to come forward – thank you. Thank you for doing what must have been terrifying, for ensuring that justice is served and for protecting future teammates from similar pain.