NY Times SAYREVILLE, N.J. — The freshmen were easy prey in the locker room. They slinked away when the older varsity boys barreled in, blasting their music, shooting each other with Nerf guns and stripping down with the kind of confidence that freshmen could only fake. Intimidated by the older boys, most played invisible. But on the day of the second game of the season, Sept. 19, the freshmen became targets in a pastime very different from football.
“Hootie hoo,” the older players yelled before their home game that night, flicking the lights on and off and on again. Then they tripped a freshman in a T-shirt and football pants, letting loud music muffle any noise the boy made as he fell. Two pinned the younger boy’s arms, while others punched and kicked him — not viciously, but hard enough to matter, two witnesses said. He curled into the fetal position and was groped by his attackers.
What happened during that episode and in three other locker room attacks in subsequent days at Sayreville War Memorial High School prompted the arrest of seven varsity players on hazing and sexual abuse allegations, the cancellation of the football season and another round of introspection about the sport and its recent spate of scandals. [...]
The freshmen may now be minimizing any abuse because of the scorn that has been directed their way. Prosecutors here face a challenge: building a case not on physical evidence, but on the testimony of teenagers who live in a world of often cruel peers, a place where threats of drop-kicking and jumping someone are as common as texting “LOL.” [...]
Some players said they thought that the attacks were just part of being on the team, a way for the varsity players to show that the chosen freshmen belonged to the Bombers family. They said the popular freshmen were targeted, not the weak ones. Yet others were scared of the older boys.
“They think they’re joking around, but I don’t think it was a joke,” a witness to the first attack said. “I said, ‘This is nasty.’ ” [...]