Rutter: Lake Zurich has deeper issue of values to resolve

Lake Zurich High School's football facility.

We wish we knew the truth more often and with deeper clarity.

But institutions want clarity far less than protecting privacy and due process. And protecting themselves from embarrassing questions and even more embarrassing answers.


So we are only left to wonder what members of the Lake Zurich High School football team did to get head coach David Proffitt and assistant Chad Beaver suspended before a playoff game with Fenwick High. Proffitt later noted he had done nothing wrong; he just hadn't stopped it.

School leaders wrapped themselves in privacy procedures, as if any of us wanted to know what teen names are attached to which abomination.


But as Maine West High proved, you can't hide. It had to settle last week for $1 million with five student athletes who were sexually hazed in 2012.

Teens were charged with assault; two coaches were fired. Lives, careers and reputations were pillaged.

The stench of complicity hung over Des Plaines for four years because Maine West's administration stood accused of having been stooge accomplices to hazing culture for years. Maine West hid. It didn't work.

Until Lake Zurich High settles with its community, every member of the program is tarnished, as is every member of the administration for trying to withhold ugly secrets.

District brass tried to dicker with hometown police to handle the matter "internally," but news leaked. People talk. People are upset. Now the state's attorney is involved.

The district's first instinct was a leniency that lacked much accountability but did protect a higher value — its football program.

Whatever happened was so bad that players — and parents — were compelled by District 95 administrators to sign a letter promising never to do anything like it again and vow to take programs about "better decision-making about hazing."

The letter was extorted payment in return for playing a game on Nov. 5.


But we're all grown-ups. So we can logically deduce some understanding.

It's teenage boys at the pinnacle of their hometown sports power pyramid. It's the locker room while coaches stayed away. It's hazing. It was "egregious," and "widespread," a school spokeswoman acknowledged.


That's behavior outstandingly bad, shocking, appalling, terrible, awful, horrendous, frightful, atrocious, abominable, abhorrent, outrageous, heinous, dire, shameful, unforgivable, intolerable, dreadful, grievous, ugly, repulsive, repellent, revolting, gruesome, grotesque, monstrous, ghastly, shocking, sickening and unspeakable.

And also could be criminal, which is a possibility District 95 tried to minimize by claiming its own investigation was more valid than inviting independent police.

Male locker room hazing that brings the police and prosecutors usually follows thematic variations as it did at Maine West. It's often cultlike coercion, predatory, hostile, victimizing, humiliating, violent, sexually dehumanizing and explicit.


If done in public, it would invoke arrest for felonious assault.

But Lake Zurich's administration decided the conduct was not so "egregious" as to stop a football game, as if football was more meaningful than respect for human dignity. That decision-making process, in itself, shows Lake Zurich High might have a values problem.

The proposed solution is "decision-making" counseling. In this psychotherapeutic realm, all bad events are caused by bad decisions that theoretically can be refurbished when they next appear. So neat; so tidy.

No one knows if prepackaged online re-education thwarts the impulse to ritual hazing brutality. Once having enjoyed the thrill of ritual cruelty, can an aggressor un-learn the thirst?

Lake Zurich's program has a long tradition of publicly stated high values and civic virtue, but these events question if those attributes are a pose or reality.

The district leaders' response seems to have valued quick, superficial, and — this is most critical — hidden solutions. Maybe they were appalled, but not enough to cancel games.


District 95 essentially punted ethically.

If Lake Zurich had won a game it should have forfeited, the decision about the next 7A playoff game would have arisen anew, and more virulently.

School authorities who mistake secrecy for discretion miss the point.

What Lake Zurich schools eventually must determine — if they have the courage — is whether the program is imbued with this hazing poison. It's a corrosive evil.

These are human failings that can't be "cured" with extorted agreements to an online "I-promise-not-to-be-a-thug" lesson plans, as District 95 imposed.

That is not a serious solution for serious people, because failure to uphold fundamental values does far deeper educational damage. It rationalizes human indecency.


Lake Zurich still has serious questions ahead for itself about transparent integrity.

As Maine West found, they won't go away.

None of those questions involve who wins the next football game.

David Rutter was editor for 40 years at six newspapers.