We don’t know a lot about what happened at a preseason retreat that led the Brunswick High School superintendent to remove some football players from the team.

We can say, however, that the superintendent is taking the alleged hazing incident seriously — and in doing so, he’s sending the right message to his students and the community at large.

In a football-centric community like Brunswick, the superintendent of schools, Phil Potenziano, put himself on the line, first in cancelling the team’s homecoming game Sept. 24, after the allegations first surfaced, then again for suspending an unknown number of players and placing the head coach and top assistant on administrative leave last week.

The rest of the team was allowed to compete last weekend, though without its two top coaches and several starting players.

“Playing football for Brunswick High School is a privilege, not a right,” Potenziano said in an email to the Portland Press Herald. Players, he said, are expected to “act appropriately and with character and integrity.”

Some players failed to live up to those expectations, at least according to Potenziano. Details are few. The school has conducted an initial investigation, and the school department’s legal counsel conducted his own; the superintendent says he is now reviewing the report, which has not been made public.

Brunswick police are also investigating. There is video evidence of the incident, which in a letter to the school community Potenziano said concerned “allegations of bullying, harassment, and hazing.”

Rumors of the incident have made their way around Brunswick, the Press Herald reported over the weekend. Based on what they have heard, some community members say the whole thing is overblown.

Potenziano disagrees. “I also want to state there have been reports in the media regarding specific allegations and I would like to reiterate that the important thing for all of us to remember is that hazing in any form is intolerable,” he told the Brunswick Times Record after canceling the homecoming game. “It is meant to cause harm, discomfort, embarrassment, humiliation, and degradation, and ridicule.”

He’s right. Hazing isn’t team-building or boys being boys. It’s the strong preying on the weak while everyone else who’s too afraid to speak up laughs along.

And while we don’t know what happened at the football team’s retreat, we do know the more common problem for hazing and bullying isn’t that people overreact — it’s that they don’t take it seriously enough, too often leaving kids to fend for themselves, or at least to take away the wrong lesson.

That won’t happen in Brunswick. The students there have heard unequivocally that hazing and bullying are wrong, and they’ve learned that there are adults who will step up and do the right thing regardless of the risk.

Most of the team will never play another snap of football after high school. But they will have plenty of chances to wield power over someone, and to witness someone misuse their power.

The last couple of weeks have offered a few lessons in how to deal with such a situation. Let’s hope they remember the right one.

 


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