When I was a child, my Mum would fill my young mind with moral lessons. Whilst playing board games I was scolded for cheating. When I pushed my younger brother out of irritation or jealousy I was scolded for bullying. When the news was saturated with stories of abducted, sexually exploited children my Mum would say: “Don’t you ever let anyone make you do something you don’t want to do.”
In adulthood, we have all been guilty of turning a deaf ear to decent parental advice for one reason or another. In the context of competitive Sport, decent parental advice almost always drowns in the cries of blood, sweat and tears. The truth is that Sports awakens the innate competitive nature in us all, causing us to act against our moral code.
This truth is especially prominent in the realm of Sports initiation. To belong to a team, the existing members must be able to observe in you the qualities that their Sport demands: solidarity, brashness, a willingness to sacrifice something for the good of the team. During this period of initiation, wherein established members of the team ‘test’ your team-playing acumen, a portion of your self respect, your pride and your image is the sacrifice.
A close friend of mine signed up to the girls Netball team in her first week of university. Her height gave her an aptitude for the Sport and she was keen to make friends with the superior members of the team. In a Skype conversation she described to me her initiation. In order to secure a position on the team as goal attack, she was filled with an unspeakable concoction of alcohol, blindfolded and marched around campus without a shirt on whilst the older girls invited male passers by to squeeze her breasts.
Sadly, she did not think much of it. She rolled her eyes at my protests, assuring me it was ‘tradition’ and ‘harmless banter.’ Another friend of mine told me that superior members of the Rugby team on the way to matches, would order freshers to crawl nude through the aisle of the coach and allow their penises to be ‘inspected’ by the rest of the team. To my relief, he refused to participate. However, to my dismay the price of his refusal involved his being forcibly stripped at a house party and made to down a pint of somebody else’s urine.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but in what other context is it acceptable for a group of people to offer you up as bait for the sexual gratification of others? In any other context, this would be considered sexual assault. Because these initiations are shrouded in phrases like ‘tradition’ and ‘banter’ they are somehow mitigated, considered an exception to the rule. It is high time that these initiation ceremonies were regulated, because there’s no harm done by jumping in a dirty canal or having to drink a whole bottle of ketchup.
You might go home soaking wet, or with a dodgy stomach but at least your dignity is somewhat unscathed. Being forced into a degrading sexual situation you are not comfortable with, can cause serious physical and emotional repercussions, which cannot be explained away with ludicrous expressions like ‘jokes’ or ‘banter.’
It all ultimately boils down to your self worth. How much of yourself are you prepared to sacrifice in order to belong? Only one person can answer that question, but before you formulate an answer, consider an old piece of advice your Mother will have once handed you: “Don’t you ever let anyone make you do something you don’t want to do.”