Elk River High School football hazing keeps coaches sidelined

The Elks are playing football again, but not with guidance from their head coach, Mike Cross, and four assistants. And not with nine of the team's players.

All of them have been sidelined after reports of a hazing ritual in which players were held down while other players poked broom and mop handles at their rectums.

The five coaches -- Cross, John Pink, Brad Olson, Mark Leland and Rick Michalak -- are all on paid leave as the school district investigation continues. They're not suspected of being on hand when the abuse was taking place. They should learn their fate today.

Four players are off the team permanently. Five were hit with suspensions.

Some Elk River players, parents and fans think the whole story is overblown, just a case of boys being boys.

But mental health professionals call these kinds of rituals something else: Male dominance expressed through sexual humiliation. In other states, players have been charged with criminal sexual abuse and coaches have been forced to resign.

The Minnesota State High School League says it takes this kind of abuse seriously:

Hazing is an act of power and control over others -- it is victimization. Hazing is premeditated and NOT accidental. Hazing is abusive, degrading and can be life-threatening.

So does Elk River High School, in its student handbook:

Hazing means committing an act against a student or coercing a student into committing an act that creates a substantial risk or harm to a person in order for the student to be initiated into or affiliated with a student organization, or for any other purpose.

The team missed scrimmages over the weekend, but was allowed to resume practice again on Monday. Seven coaches whose suspensions were lifted will take on duties for the whole team, which hasn't had a winning season since 2003. It hosts Becker in its home opener on Thursday.

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