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Bonding, not hazing

Stories at Cornell, B'ville highlight troubling issue

Cornell University, academic bastion, Ivy League stalwart, producer of so much talent in so many fields – the school has every right to feel proud about its place, both as an institution and as the source of so much pride within the Ithaca community.

And while sports are important for the Big Red, it tries hard not to reflect the larger ugliness that surrounds big-time college athletics and has been profusely documented everywhere you look.

Or at least it did avoid the ugliness, at least until last week’s developments.

When the university got word that older members of its men’s lacrosse team forced freshmen into alcohol consumption, the school benched the Big Red for the rest of the fall. They can practice, but not play exhibition games or fall prep tournaments.

It was bad enough that this took place in what is supposed to be of the nation’s better universities, but what made it worse was that it involved that most disgraceful of time-honored college traditions, in sports or fraternities or any other social club – hazing.

Just last May, Cornell found itself at the NCAA championships in Philadelphia, reaching the national semifinals. Rob Pannell was honored with the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s top player, celebrated as an exemplary student-athlete.

To go from those heights to the depths of a hazing scandal is a pretty steep fall in a fairly short amount of time. And it should serve as yet another “teachable moment” to young men and women who want to foster camaraderie in the groups to which they belong.

In talking to both coaches and athletes while covering high school sports, I’m always curious as to what “bonding” is used to bring teams together. They usually mention out-of-season camps and clinics or in-season events such as team meals cooked up by parents of one of the team members. All of it sounds clean-cut, harmless and lots of fun.

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