Rookies deserve respect from teammates
By Amy Donaldson
No one is going to say they’re in support of hazing.
It’s sort of like being in favor of driving under the influence. Everybody knows it’s bad â€” even the dolts who do it.
But hazing is the kind of activity that easily moves from harmless fun to dangerous and demeaning without anyone really meaning it to go down that road.
Which is why I was a little disappointed to see that Deron Williams was having such a good time showing off the Tinker Bell backpacks given to Jazz rookies Eric Maynor and Wes Mathews.
OK, I know it was a joke. (And yes, I do have a sense of humor, even though in this case, I really thought it was out of place as it came after an embarrassing loss.)
But I just thought of all those youthful fans of Williams who will not know the difference between what the Jazz veterans did to their less experienced teammates, and what the Utah State Office of Education has asked schools to eliminate from school-sponsored programs.
The backpacks probably don’t constitute hazing, according to the new rule adopted by the Utah State Office of Education. But that kind of thinking â€” that you need to initiate the new kids â€” is exactly what gets teenagers into trouble.
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Many “initiations” are done in fun and are meant to welcome newbies to a team or club. But most devolve into ways to embarrass or poke fun at the newest members of a group.
Over the years there have been high-profile incidents of hazing-gone-awry, and a handful of cases that ended with teenagers facing criminal charges. The vast majority of these incidents go unreported because the children being initiated want desperately to belong. They want to be accepted and they want to be a part of the group that is tormenting them.
The State Office of Education was wise to try and get a comprehensive policy out there that spells out specifically what bullying and hazing mean in legal terms. But a much more delicate matter is that of a teenager’s psyche.
The sad fact is that any time you try to “initiate” someone into a group, the potential for problems is huge. What seems innocent or silly to one 14-year-old boy is degrading and demeaning to another. That’s the danger is allowing any kind of taunting or teasing as teams are formed â€” whether they’re associated with schools or not.
I guess seeing the Tinker Bell backpacks just reminded me that hazing is really so ingrained in sports culture that it’s easy to defend. Rookies are asked to do more on most teams â€” carry water, pick up equipment, sit in a specific area on the bus, or bring treats for the older kids. They are often given the undesirable tasks because, well, they have to prove they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed. Or at least that’s what I’m told.
No one argues with it because anyone who grew up playing sports was asked to do it. It’s allegedly to teach the younger kids that they have to earn what the upperclassmen have.
Respect is earned, not automatic, right?
But what if it were automatic. What if youngsters were treated like anyone else on the team from day one? What if seniors carried equipment and helped younger players learn the ropes without taunting or teasing?
Would there be a revolt? Would the younger players suddenly take over? Would they be ungrateful? Disrespectful? Lazy?
My experience is that if you treat someone with respect, they usually reciprocate. When you offer to help someone, they offer to help you. When you tell someone they’re valued and important and that you’re glad to have them around, well, they act like they’re glad to be there.
Instead of worried, fearful, or resentful because of the taunting, teasing and tormenting, rookies would be comfortable, grateful and trusting.
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Making someone feel ridiculous doesn’t build them up or inspire them to work harder for the sake of the team. In fact, sometimes it causes kids just to quit. They’d rather spend their time with people who treat them with respect just because they’re willing to show up to tryouts.
If sports really are about learning life lessons, then it seems learning to treat people â€” regardless of their age or experience â€” with respect and compassion should be right there at the top of the to-do list.