Monday, January 19, 2009

Football Hazing Incident Prompts Lawsuit, Invokes Title IX

A former high school football player and his parents have sued the Fairhaven (Massachusetts) School Committee and other defendants to challenge incidents of hazing that occurred at the hands of his teammates at a school-endorsed football camp in the summer of 2006. Matthew Marujo alleges that his teammates forced him to strip naked so they could -- in a tragic example of life imitating art -- rub a "bengay-like substance" on his testicles. The next morning, they attempted to duct tape him to his bed and to duct tape his mouth shut and threw a cup of semen at him as he struggled free. Inexplicably, the team captain videotaped the incident and presented the tape to the football coach.

Among the numerous claims in the Marujos' federal complaint is that the school district violated Title IX by showing deliberate indifference to peer harassment about which they had knowledge due to incidents of "hazing in prior years" directed at Marujo.

I expect that the defendants will seek to dismiss this count on the grounds that the complaint does not expressly allege that the hazing was motivated by Marujo's sex or gender, a requirement for Title IX liability to attach. But any sport sociologist will tell you that hazing in boys' sport, and particularly football, is usually motivated by a desire to enforce the dominant version of masculinity. Chances are, this plaintiff was targeted for his failure to comply with the hegemonic masculinity in some way. The fact that the assaulters went after Marujo's testicles and threw semen at him could easily be read as symbolic affronts to Marujo's masculinity. Maybe he was weak or timid or sensitive. Maybe he didn't participate in the sexual objectification women or gave his teammates other reasons to presume him gay or sissy. I hope that the court sees the inherent relationship between gender and football and hazing, or at least give the plaintiffs a chance, if necessary, to spell it out the connection expressly in subsequent pleadings.

Source: Complaint, Marujo v. Baldwin et al., No. 1:09-cv-10066 (D. Mass. Jan. 16, 2009).