My heart aches for the 15-year-old Ooltewah High School student who was reportedly assaulted by his teammates while away at a basketball tournament in Gatlinburg, Tenn., earlier this month.
The details — involving a pool cue and a punctured colon, according to multiple sources — are stomach-turning. It's the type of story you would associate with a Quentin Tarantino movie or some Third-World torture chamber.
Never would you expect such horror to emerge from a high school basketball team from a Chattanooga suburb. New reports indicate three other members of the team may have been "hazed" in the incident.
The questions raised by this incident are deeply troubling.
Why did his teammates hurt this boy to the point that his life was endangered and his psyche perhaps forever damaged?
When did the locker room become a war room? (Granted, the alleged assault apparently took place in a cabin rented for the tournament, but the victim was still in the fold of the team and under the care of his coaches.)
As a former high school player, a youth sports coach and a sports writer, I have been in hundreds of locker rooms.
As a sophomore pitcher on a high school varsity baseball team, I was dog-piled in a mud puddle. That was my initiation to the team, and from that point forward, those guys had my back and I had theirs.
Sadly, the term "hazing" is not strong enough for what these three Ooltewah "teammates" — who are under age 18 so Times Free Press policy protects their identities — reportedly did to this young man.
How does an act this horrific even enter the minds of teenagers? This was malicious and dangerous and criminal. It's clear that it will be a life-changing event for everyone in that room and, by extension, their families.
It also raises the question: How were kids capable of this kind of act allowed to be unsupervised? It strains the imagination to believe that "hazing" could spiral into aggravated rape without some warning sign.
Certainly those connected at Ooltewah are sorry this happened, but sorry is not enough.
"It's still an ongoing investigation, but I can confirm that there was an incident involving three of our boys' basketball players apparently hazing another teammate," Ooltewah athletic director Jesse Nayadley told this paper's Stephen Hargis late last week. "The younger player was injured and he was hospitalized. We have informed the three who were responsible that they are no longer on the team."
I don't know anyone involved with the Ooltewah basketball program, and I have no reason to think this was anything more than a one-time incident.
Still, if this is an isolated incident, then where did the idea come from?
This is an environment that cannot be allowed to survive. And if it happens amid the supervision of coaches and in the sanctity among an extended locker room among those who you'd expect to be bonded by the word team, then it's even worse.
I ache to the bone for the victim and his mother, and I deeply hope they can find some form of normalcy.
I wish there was a way to grant the victim some sort of peace, because the physical injuries will heal long before the emotional and psychological ones do.
I also think about the three boys sitting in a Gatlinburg detention center waiting to learn the next chapter in what may be a life-altering nightmare for them.
I hope whatever punishments are handed out are severe enough to deter anyone with any idea this awful in the future.
Certainly justice will be served, but for some injuries justice is a weak painkiller.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/jgreesontfp.