Outside the Lines will air a primetime special tonight, “Hazing: The Hidden Horror” (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET), which is the result of eight months of reporting. The special report (with its ESPN.com component) is also available now via WatchESPN.
Although it’s rarely discussed at such length and so frankly, hazing is not a new issue – OTL has been reporting on it for well over a decade.
“We became familiar with this kind of hazing back in the fall of 2014 with a very well publicized case in Sayreville, NJ. We were all shocked at this kind of sexualized hazing and wondered if this was an isolated case,” coordinating producer Tim Hays said. “Over several months we noticed more and more examples of high school boys sodomizing younger boys as part of a hazing ritual. As we did more research on the subject we found these kinds of incidents were exploding nationally, but no one was talking about it.”
OTL has identified more than 40 similar hazing assaults since 2011 in towns and cities across the country. One of the few people brave enough to talk about his experience was 17-year-old Josh Villegas of Hesperia, Calif.
“Josh stands out because, unlike so many hazing victims, he was willing to break the code of silence that surrounds this behavior,” OTL reporter John Barr said. “It became clear early on that hazing victims, like Josh, suffer in many of the same ways that sexual assault victims suffer.
“We found that hazing in the athletic environment, particularly when it’s a scenario where the victim and perpetrator are both young men, often gets dismissed as horseplay or ‘boys will be boys,’” he said. “But the victims experience a tremendous amount of embarrassment, shame and guilt.”
OTL was extremely sensitive when it came to interviewing young men like Villegas, who are often left with psychological effects after their experiences.
“Josh made it clear in his interview with us that this has impacted him psychologically in profound ways. He had to leave his old school. At a time, he says, he contemplated suicide,” Barr said. “Three years removed from it, he is in a much better place but it was extremely painful for him to relive this alleged assault. He was determined to do so because he wants other hazing victims to break the code of silence.”
D’Arcy McKeown, who was hazed when he was 18 years old, also spoke to Outside the Lines in hopes of impacting change.
“Through counseling and with the help of his friends and family, D’Arcy was able to reach a much better place psychologically,” Barr said. “D’Arcy made it clear to us that you don’t just walk away from an incident like that and everything is fine, you carry some real baggage. He hasn’t done many interviews but he chose to speak with us because he is as determined today, as he was in 2005, to shed a light on this disturbingly-ritualistic behavior.”