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A central Pennsylvania high school canceled its football team season due to hazing. A western Pennsylvania high school is currently investigating a separate hazing incident. While movies and books often show hazing as a lighthearted way of bringing groups together and initiating people into teams and fraternities, the law is taking a hard-line approach to some of these activities.

When hazing is illegal

After a series of deaths and serious injuries, colleges and state governments took steps towards stopping dangerous hazing activities. The Timothy Piazza Anti-hazing law was enacted in 2018. This Pennsylvania-specific law makes it illegal to engage in any hazing activities that are not tied to “reasonable and customary” military, athletic, or law enforcement “training, contests, competitions, or events.” Hazing offenses can be punished by up to seven years in prison.

What happened in the central Pennsylvania hazing case.

School administrators at Middletown Area High School received a video of a hazing incident involving the school’s football team. After reviewing the video, the school suspended the students who were involved. Another video showing more widespread hazing involving the football team was released. The district canceled the season after concluding that the issue with hazing was more severe and more widespread than the administration had known.

What happened in the Lawrence County, Pennsylvania case

The Mohawk High School varsity and junior-varsity football teams were put on inactive status on August 19th while the Lawrence County (PA) district attorney’s office investigated an alleged hazing incident. So far, two football games have been canceled.

Key Takeaways:

With back to school season in full swing, students at high schools and colleges may encounter situations that may open them up to potential hazing charges. Although news reporting has been vague about the details of the hazing incidents, Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law lists the behaviors that may be considered hazing when a student or minor is forced to do them to as part of “initiating, admitting or affiliating” them into a group or “for the purpose of continuing or enhancing” their membership or status:

  • Break federal or state laws
  • Consume “any food, liquid, alcoholic liquid, drug or other substance” that could hurt the person physically or emotionally
  • Be subjected to beatings, whippings, spankings, paddling, branding, exercise, exposure to the weather and elements, or other types of physical brutality
  • Be subjected to mental brutality like sleep deprivation, exclusion, or extreme embarrassment
  • Be subjected to sexual brutality
  • Be subjected to anything else that “creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury”