By Michael Spinner
Imagine this hypothetical scenario: A college student newspaper had an off-campus party where an underage freshman reporter got so drunk that he or she got sick and felt really awful for a while. The next day, a parent of the young student reporter so distraught at the notion of his "baby" being "forced to drink" by the evil editorial staff contacts the school administration by e-mail and lets them know that the incident occurred. An investigation ensued and many on the student paper's staff were barred from attending any editorial meetings, planning sessions, or other staff functions for a full semester. Without much of a staff, the paper stopped the presses for the semester, all because of an off-campus incident involving alcohol.
What would be the public reaction be to such a punishment? After all, the whole staff did not drink at the party. A great deal of the student body was not there and yet they have no paper to read. Perhaps the student press is a bad example because of prior restraint and free speech issues, but you get the picture. Unfortunately the editorial staff at the University of Maryland's student newspaper "The Diamondback" does not. Along with others, they have been quite critical of the school's "lax" reaction to a similar situation which did occur recently at an off-campus "lacrosse party".
Shortly before the beginning of the school year, the Men's and Women's Lacrosse teams attended a party at an off-campus house along with many other students and friends, according to our sources. Alcohol was, of course, present. A freshman who was to be a member of the women's lacrosse team went a bit too far, drank too much and got sick. She did not get rushed to the hospital as has been reported. The student was ok, but a concerned parent contacted the school, an investigation ensued, and 31 members of the men's and women's teams were suspended from fall competition while 44 received some form of discipline. The kids can practice, but cannot participate in fall competition against other schools. Basically, there will be no fall ball in College Park.
If it were the Glee Club, Young Republicans, or Campus Crusade for Coco Crisp Christmas Cookies and such an incident occurred, would it not seem ridiculous if the school's reaction would be to shut the activity down for a semester? No Coco Crisp Christmas cookies for anyone? Nope. The University of Maryland has essentially canceled Men's and Women's Lacrosse seasons for the fall and is still being criticized for being too lenient.
As seems to be the national norm, because these were athletes, they were held to higher standards than the rest of the student body. While I in no way condone abuse of alcohol and underage drinking involved, where my questions start is why are these teams treated one way when 99% of the students would not be punished like this.
We live in an era of political correctness with regards to intercollegiate athletics that is so incredibly out of control that you wonder why coaches don't have their teams living in army barracks during the year. These weren't just students. They were athletes, so they have to be punished severely. If a member of these teams were Vice President of the Chess Club (it could happen), he could continue to play chess but couldn't play lacrosse against outside competition this fall because he is a lacrosse player too.
What makes this whole situation worse is that, according to all reports, the individual involved voluntarily ingested the alcohol. There was no "hazing" as the school put it or at least what most of us think of as hazing. The girl wasn't tied down, IV inserted and attached to the nozzle of a keg of Natural Light. She was not told to drink or else be forced to watch the Maryland Football team play over and over again. She drank of her own free will. She could have chosen not to drink, or to not drink as much. In the end, she caused the situation, nobody else.
If hazing is defined as an under-aged student drinking alcoholic beverages with others, perhaps by UMD standards hazing occurred, but not based on what most of the civilized world recognizes as a pretty standard practice at most American colleges and universities. If these lacrosse players were guilty of hazing, then so is probably every group activity on every college campus, everywhere. Do we believe that this "hazing" incident was the only example of underage drinking on campus that weekend? This was probably not even the only example of an underage drinker going too far during the same weekend at UMD. A commonly used Harvard study claims that 44 percent of college students engage in binge drinking. That is a problem. And it is far bigger than "a drinking problem at Maryland" or "a drinking problem within lacrosse" both of which are probable.
The issue in my mind is one of accountability and responsibility. Who is responsible for this action? The drinker; the young lady who decided that it would be a good idea to drink so much grain alcohol that the simple act of converting oxygen to carbon dioxide becomes a question mark. As much as there may be fault for providing this young lady the opportunity to obtain the alcohol, she is ultimately responsible for her decisions. A huge societal problem at work here is that individuals are less and less responsible for their own actions because it is always "somebody else's" fault. She drinks too much and it is the fault of those hosting the party. He doesn't play enough so it is the coach's fault. Someone fails a class and the professor is being unfair.
You want a punishment that fits this "crime"? The young lady is off the team until she learns to take care of herself. She needs to prove that she can sustain life on her own, go to class and achieve, and be able to be around a keg of beer and exercise enough self-control that she does not pour enough down her throat to nearly kill her. She needs to do this for six months before she can play lacrosse or join any other extracurricular activity. This way, the situation is not treated exclusively as an athletics issue. This is a fair and reasonable and positions the student to be the beneficiary of the lesson imparted and the punishment itself.
And the members of the teams who participated in this incident are not unaccountable for what happened. Someone broke the law by providing alcohol to students under the age of 21 and will likely pay for that. But canceling fall ball is not the answer, because it not only punishes the lacrosse players involved but those uninvolved as well and the University as a whole. Athletics are a symbol of the Institution and the students it represents. The Maryland Lacrosse programs will likely take a step down this season if they miss out on fall competitions. Yet, I'd bet most teams competing did not miss out on the always intense partying that occurs the first few weeks of every college semester. If they don't play, everybody loses, especially those who had nothing to do with the party. Combine that with the fact that holding athletes more accountable than students who participate in other activities is nothing short of discrimination and simply unfair. I am sure the two veteran coaches at Maryland can come up with sufficient practice related discipline to make the older kids think twice next time somebody's overdoing it and perhaps show some maturity and leadership and stop them.
And dear old Dad, who took the time to e-mail the UMD athletics staff and make a huge deal out of his daughter's lapse in reason, is hopefully reading this piece. He deserves a bit of the blame too. His actions and inactions in effectively educating his daughter about the perils of overdrinking before going off to college and even high school parties and then blaming others for his bad parenting is pathetic. The issue of student drinking is important and the overdrinking problem is very dangerous. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse found that excessive drinking accounts for a staggering 1,400 deaths, 70,000 sexual assaults and 600,000 assaults on campuses every year. But the problem of overdrinking to the point of self injury needs to be understood and mitigated by each student as a responsible individual. As "responsible adults" we can only educate and help them understand the issues, and maybe that's what the school is attempting to do by employing such harsh punishments, but if that's the case, they must make that known and open the discussion to all, very publicly and honestly to be effective. That discussion is needed, but I assure you, parents like the one that started this whole mess are nowhere near ready to hear the truth about drinking and related activities from their own kids.
September 16, 2003
Diamondback Editorial: Hazy on hazing
Diamondback Editorial: Athletic department lax in message
Diamondback Story: Underage drinking costs some fall season and spring trip
SITES WITH RELATED INFORMATION
College partying involves binge drinking - University of Indiana
Alcohol and Other Drugs on Campus-The Scope of the Problem
Binge Drinking on College Campuses
Binge Drinking Among Underage Persons
ABC News: Binging May Cause Brain Damage
Colleges try, but can't cut binge drinking
All photographs of beer glasses, steins and shot glasses are from retailers of sports memorabilia online. The parodical and editorial use of commercial photographs and logos is fully permitted by the first amendment and all subsequent rulings. To be fair, every University, not just the University of Maryland, have numerous alcohol drinking related licensed items available all over the web and usually in the school bookstore.
The latest Spin on E-Lacrosse: Past Columns