Serious hazing penalties set tone of zero tolerance

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

It doesn't matter how long the decision took or how it was reached, the Ontario Hockey League and McGill University have got to the right place.

They are protecting the young athlete.

The OHL and McGill responded to hazing incidents by setting a standard in punishment that will discourage anyone from doing it again.

Dave Branch, commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League, suspended Moe Mantha, general manager and coach of the Windsor Spitfires, for a year as general manager and for a total of 40 games as a coach for a hazing incident and a fight between two players at a practice. Mantha is fortunate his suspension from coaching is so light. Branch also levied a $35,000 fine against the organization.

McGill cancelled the final two games of the team's football season after an investigation of a hazing incident that involved "nudity, degrading positions and behaviours" along with other issues.

The actions taken by the OHL and McGill are intended to head off further damage to their corporate image. Corporate image is always the first concern.

"It's all about the protection of the kids," Branch said yesterday, a day after stinging the Spitfires. "A byproduct is that we're sending out the type of images you feel most people would respect and understand, whether it's in the corporate world, prospective players, fans."

Who knows what would have happened if the hazing incidents had not got national and international attention. But once they became front-page news, the organizations no longer needed to put their finger in the air to see which way the wind was blowing.

"I've been in committee meetings all day but I have had high number of e-mails and the like from across the country, being very supportive of the action the league took," said Branch.

The OHL is already in a battle for its life in attracting top minor hockey players. Stuffing naked rookies into a bus washroom isn't exactly a great selling point with potential recruits or their parents.

The OHL and McGill had no choice but to act decisively and they did.

In protecting their corporate image, the OHL and McGill afforded potential athletes a blueprint for their own protection and survival. No longer should an individual be afraid to come forward if anything happens to him or her.

The biggest deterrent is the severity of the penalties. The OHL and McGill served notice that this is the minimum penalty one can expect for hazing. It would take really brave, or stupid, individuals to push that envelope.

"We would hope this isn't a standard (for punishment) because we don't expect we'll have to deal with this type of issue again," said Branch.

More importantly, these decisions helped pull down the protective wall of secrecy that often surrounds these types of organizations.

The adage that "what happens here, stays here" is an outdated code of silence that led to abuse, manipulation and deceit. Publicity is the best way to ensure that those who are accountable are made accountable for what they did or failed to do.

Organizations would do well to follow McGill's new policies. Included is zero tolerance for hazing applicable to all sports; the university will suspend for the playing season any team that engages in hazing; it will revoke the athletic awards of any student who engages in hazing; hazing will be identified as a form of harassment; an associate director of athlete affairs will be appointed to ensure closer support, supervision and monitoring of student athletes and team activities.

There is also a greater responsibility being placed on McGill's coaches, professors and staff to combat hazing.

There is no comfort in being a victim. But there is some solace in knowing that what happened to you may not happen to anyone else.


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