First Moments: Football Fun or Serious Business?

You are a reporter for your high school newspaper. You overhear students talking about freshmen who attended the annual football camp being hazed by older football players. (Hazing occurs when a person is required to perform or endure a dangerous or risky act in order to join a particular group.) The students say older players hit freshmen with such as objects as tennis balls in socks, belts, electric cords and chairs. The young players have bruises.

What Would You Do?

  • Do you think this is news?

  • If you donít think this is news, why isnít it news?

  • If you do think this is news, what do you do next?

Verify the Story
You talk to members of the football team and find out that the rumors are true. The hazing ritual has gone on for years. You identify yourself as a member of the student press when you talk to them and your schoolís athletic director. The athletic director downplays the incidents and accuses you of negative journalism.

What Would You Do?

  • Do you write the story?

  • If not, who or what persuaded you?

  • If so, what would you do to avoid making the story sensational?

Research and Write
You continue to collect facts and find out the law. Most states have laws that make hazing a crime. Considered criminal recklessness, hazing can be classified as a misdemeanor, a Class D felony or unlawful action.

The athletic director asks you not to publish the story until after playoffs. Your newspaper adviser defends the staffís right to run the story. The principal demands prior review, then orders you not to print the story.

What Would You Do?

  • Do you agree to your principalís demand and drop the story?

  • Do you print the story?

  • Do you call your school board?

  • Do you call your local newspaper?

Decide Whether to Publish
All of the facts and quotations are accurate. You believe you have the right to publish. You decide to take the story to the school board and to your community newspaper. Your adviser tells the principal what you intend to do.

What Would You Do?

  • Do you talk with your principal before going to the school board and press?

  • Does your community need a dialogue about this issue?

  • What are the journalistic issues in this situation?

  • What are the legal issues?

  • What are the ethical issues?

  • Does the story go to press if the principal asks you to substitute some of the quotations?

The Real Story
Marina Hennessy, a 17-year-old junior at Avon High School in Indiana, received the Courage in Student Journalism Award from the Newseum in May 2000 for exposing hazing practices by her schoolís football team. Hennessy, who was forced to change quotations after prior review of the story by school officials, published the story with an editorís note that the article had been changed by school officials. Indianapolis newspapers and television stations covered the story that Marina broke. The football coach resigned six weeks after the story appeared in the Avon High School newspaper and school officials stated that hazing would no longer take place.