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Cleveland Plain Dealer vs. Philadelphia on attitudes toward hazing

Compare the coverage of the Cleveland Plain Dealer with CSN Philly reporter Ray Didinger who has covered football since 1970.

1) Here is the Plain Dealer (the comment is from a Bud Shaw, not editor Bob Keim).

Since when is playing football an adult behavior?

Hazing expert Hank Nuwer supports the decision Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant made not to carry teammate Roy Williams’ shoulder pads off the practice field. Such rituals have long been a part of the rookie initiation in the NFL.

“It’s non-criminal, but what you’re dealing with is the idea of humiliation,” Nuwer, an associate professor of journalism at Franklin College in Indiana, told USA Today.

“It’s wrong to humiliate people. And we’re in an age of sexting and harassment and so forth. To allow this kind of behavior among adults is wrong.”

Really now.

He’s kidding, right?

You know what’s really demeaning?

Somebody trying to tell you carrying a pair of shoulder pads is humiliating and injurious, not to mention hazing.”

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Compare with

2) Sunday, August 1, 2010 By Ray Didinger CSNPhilly.com

Dallas Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant caused quite a stir when he refused to carry the shoulder pads of veteran Roy Williams. It is a rite of passage in Dallas that rookies carry the veterans’ gear at training camp.

Williams handed Bryant his pads and the Cowboys’ top draft pick handed them back.

“I’m not doing it,” Bryant said. “If I was a free agent, it would be the same thing. I’m here to play football. I’m here to try to help win a championship, not carry someone’s pads.”

When the story gained national attention, Bryant expressed regret. He said he didn’t know schlepping equipment was a ritual for Cowboys rookies. If he had known, he said, “I would’ve took his shoulder pads, his pants, his helmet, his socks, his shoes. I would’ve took everything.”

So Bryant and Williams patched things up and everyone went back to work — at least until Friday when Bryant went down in practice with a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for two months.

But guess what? Bryant was right. All the stuff that falls under the heading of rookie hazing is nonsense. It’s juvenile and it does nothing to promote team chemistry. In fact, it often does the exact opposite.

Eagles coach Andy Reid is one of several NFL head coaches who do not allow it in their training camps.

“We didn’t allow it in Green Bay under Mike [Holmgren, head coach],” Reid said. “I’ve taken the same approach here. I don’t see what [hazing] accomplishes.”

I heard the talking heads on ESPN, including former players and coaches, saying Bryant was wrong, that he should’ve gone along with the program. As Roy Williams, the aggrieved party said: “I had to go through it. Everybody has to go through with it. I mean, what’s the big deal?”

Once upon a time, I thought the same thing. When I started covering pro football in 1970, I went to various camps and saw the vets hazing the rookies. I didn’t think a whole lot of it. It looked like the kind of goofing around you’d see in any frat house or summer camp. It seemed stupid, but harmless.

But after a while I began to notice a pattern. For the most part, the better players on the team didn’t engage in the hazing. It was the fringe veterans, the guys who were hanging on for dear life who were the most aggressive hazers. That’s when I realized this wasn’t just innocent “boys-will-be-boys” stuff. It was really insidious.

The fringe vets used hazing as a way of messing with the rookies’ heads, making them uncomfortable and even fearful. Basically, they were doing everything they could to put the rookies on the defensive and make it harder for them to compete. It was no accident that the vets who engaged in this were the ones who were most threatened by the young players.

Is it a coincidence, for example, that Roy Williams was the one who told Bryant to carry his pads? Williams has been a high-priced bust in Dallas and when the team drafted Bryant, clearly, it was with the idea of the rookie taking Williams’ job.

The veterans would tell you hazing is all in fun but, in reality, it is often mean-spirited. I no longer accept the old-school line that hazing rookies is a morale builder and a way of welcoming them to the team. On the contrary, it is a way of telling them they aren’t part of the team.

The most hideous case of hazing took place in the New Orleans camp in 1998 when the rookies were blindfolded and forced to run a gauntlet while the vets punched them and hit them with sacks filled with coins. Several rookies were injured, including one who suffered a fractured eye socket and another who fell through a window.

Obviously, that’s an extreme case, but even stuff like making the rookies sing their school song in the dining hall and fetch pizzas for the vets at night when they should be studying their playbook doesn’t help build a team.

“We’re all in this together, rookies and veterans,” Reid said. “That guy’s not a rookie, he’s your teammate.”

My sentiments exactly. If I were a GM or coach, hazing would not be allowed in any way, shape or form.

Moderator: So here are some of my thoughts on Bob Keim. I did contact the paper but received no acknowledgment as of 3:10 p.m. on August 1
It seems incomprehensible to me
that a journalist for the Cleveland Plain dealer would defend hazing, a practice that:

a) Every employer in the United States supposedly has outlawed hazing as an abuse.

See Sports Illustrated:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/john_lopez/07/29/hazing/index.html?section=si_latest&xid=shareFB

b) And that 44 states have laws against. (see stophazing.org)

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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