Principal censors article on football team hazing


Reporter forced to include coach's statement in story that made local TV news





INDIANA -- When Marina Hennessy started working on a story\nabout hazing for Avon High School's student newspaper, she wanted\nto show that incidents, such as an alleged assault involving the\nswim team at nearby Carmel High School, did not happen at Avon.\n

Until she found out they did.

"Our whole goal was to brag about ourselves, really, to\nsay, 'Oh, there's no hazing here,'" Hennessy said. "And\nI started interviewing people, and I asked the football players\nif I could interview them, and I went and interviewed one of the\nstar guys, and he just started talking about what happened."

Football players told Hennessy about being beaten by other\nmembers of the team with broomsticks, extension cords and socks\nstuffed with tennis balls at the team's annual summer football\ncamp. Hennessy said she talked to 20 people for the story, and\nno one denied the incidents happened, except for the football\ncoach who said he did not know any of the incidents had occurred.\n

Hennessy said she and the other members of The Echo's staff\ndecided to publish an article about the incidents because they\nwanted the hazing to stop.

"We wanted it to be a safe [football] camp so this year's\nfreshmen don't have to go through what everyone else had to go\nthrough," she said.

But the article almost did not get published.

According to Hennessy, Avon principal Joan Schafer threatened\nto pull the story, saying it was slanted and inaccurate. She accused\nHennessy of exaggerating some of the incidents in the article\nand insinuating the coaches knew about the hazing.

But when Echo adviser Pam Essex told Schafer that if\nthe story was pulled, Hennessy's mother was going to take her\ndaughter's notes to the school board, Schafer relented and agreed\nto let The Echo publish the story on three conditions --\nthat Hennessy remove a quote from a student who said he wished\nthe coaches would do something about the hazing, include a written\nstatement by the football coach and remove a quote from a student\ntrainer.

Hennessy agreed to include the football coach's statement and\nremove a quote from the student who said he wished the coaches\nwould do something about the hazing. But she refused to take out\na quote from the student trainer describing bruises on the back\nof a player who said he had been beaten with a sock stuffed with\ntennis balls.

Hennessy said she resented Schafer's assertions that her story\nwas unfair.

"I was very careful to make sure that everything was accurate,"\nHennessy said. "If someone told me something, I went to the\nsource of who it happened to and asked them if it happened."\n

"It was just a matter of principle," she said "We\nshould have the right to print the story."

Schafer did not return calls from the Report requesting\ncomment.

The Echo staff considered refusing to publish the story\nrather than censor parts of it but decided it was more important\nto publicize the alleged hazing incidents.

"It made me feel better knowing that it was going to be\nin the paper than be pulled completely," Hennessy said. "There\nwasn't a doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing the\nwhole time, even when everybody else was telling me that [the\nhazing] was just horseplay. When you know for sure that something's\nright, you just have to go with that instinct and fight for what\nyou believe in."

After The Echo published her story, The Indianapolis\nStar and several local television newscasts ran stories about\nthe incidents Hennessy uncovered. Hennessy said she welcomed the\nadditional publicity.

"The principal can censor her paper, but she can't censor\nthe Star," Hennessy said. "She can't censor the\nnewscast"


reports, Winter 1999-2000