The current flap about hazing in sport moves me to reprint an essay here that I wrote some years ago for a book called “Making the Team: Inside the World of Sports Initiations and Hazing” (editors Jay Johnson and Margery Holman).
I’ll update my thoughts on sports hazing later today, but many of the thoughts I expressed here still hold. So many sportswriters in the last day have referred to hazing as a “time-honored tradition” that it ought to embarrass not only them (Just see Google News for their names or see my new column later today) but also their editors and publications. Such a mindless termlike “time-honored tradition”Â is not only an expression of bias, but it is a mindless cliche–and both have no part of journalism in an era where journalism itself needs all the public support and respect it can muster to retain First Amendment and Shield protections. Enough said until later today. Here is the essay.
How Sportswriters Contribute to a Hazing Culture in Athletics
A famous poster in the 1960s declared, â€œIf youâ€™re not part of the solution, youâ€™re part of the problem.â€
After conducting a computer-aided search of hazing coverage in North American sports sections from 1992 to 2002, my conclusion is that some sportswriters contribute to an unfortunate mindset in professional athletics in which hazing too often is regarded as an activity that is fun, a tradition, and welcome.
Such writers, and by extension the papers that publish them, do a public disservice in at least three ways.
One, since one important function of a newspaper is to introduce readers to community values, sportswriters that tolerate or promote hazing therefore abdicate their community-watchdog responsibilities. Significantly, as hazing incidents involving high school and college athletes increasingly result in arrests, suspensions and civil suits, newspapers never fail (that I could find) to hold amateur athletes accountable. It is only in coverage of professional sports that some newspaper writers tolerate, or worse, encourage hazing. To be sure, some of this coverage appears outside the sports pages under local, and in a few cases, national news.
Two, since newspaper ethical codes rigidly prohibit bias in all news stories, when reporters cavalierly paint hazing incidents as harmless they undermine the standards which professional organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists so vigorously defend. Sports departments long have chafed under criticisms that they are little more than a newspaperâ€™s toy department, and these examples of bad hazing coverage tend to undermine a paperâ€™s attempt to deliver good, serious journalism.
Three, when newspaper editors stand idly by, allowing their colleagues free rein to promote, defend, or glamorize acts of hazing by professional athletes, these editors are at least as culpable as school administrators who turn their heads to acts of hazing until an inevitable arrest, injury, or (rarely) death occurs.
In this lecture, I plan to point to some examples of bad hazing coverage at the professional sports level. My research and essay attempt to instruct
(1) reporters and editors so that they go and do otherwise and admonish colleagues who have lower standards;
(2) readers to detect bias, error, or opinion in media coverage about hazing; and
(3) athletes and coaches so that they might recognize the rationalizations and justifications inevitably associated with hazing.
First, let me share some relevant background information. Significantly, as I have shown in my Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, newspapers historically and, perhaps it may be argued, shamefully played a role in contributing to the culture of hazing by egging on participants in news articles and opinion pieces, as well as by emphasizing such spectacles so that whole communities could turn out to enjoy fierce â€œflag rushesâ€ and â€œbattle royals.â€ Much of this coverage was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Back then, after one of these annual hazing events resulted in a death or lifelong crippling, newspaper editors were only then quick to condemn those who they accused of taking a tradition too far. They quickly distanced themselves from the perpetrators and failed to apologize for their own days or weeks of breathless coverage that had built up the importance of an annual initiation in the minds of spectators, school administrators, and combatants.
Even before hazing took hold in America, similar practices were rampant in medieval universities in Europe and led to the passage of many statutes forbidding the practice. Some of these regulations today can be read verbatim in Lynn Thorndikeâ€™s University Records and Life in the Middle Ages. Even so, hazing continued in Europe long into the Industrial Age and was a persistent source of torment and injury for prep school boys at institutions such as Cambridge and Oxford.
â€œFagging,â€ a form of servitude that often included extortion and physical violence in England, was dismissed by one journalist writing for The Spectator in 1891 as â€œthe right exercised by the older boy to make the younger do what he likes, and what the younger generally dislikes.â€ Such justifications were especially rampant in dozens of college and university histories (and even more conspicuous in student newspapers and yearbooks edited by undergraduates) I have inspected since first writing about hazing in the late 1970s. Note, for example, the slanting of prose by a University of Delaware chronicler, John A. Munroe, in 1983 condoning, or at least defending, early hazing practices as â€œmodestâ€:
Freshman Week grew into a useful orientation period occupying several days at both colleges. Some modest hazing was permitted, with freshmen wearing mildly ridiculous marks of their status-such as a baby rattle or teething ring on a chain; such distinctive devices served the positive function of helping members of the new class to become acquainted. [The passage may be read online at http://www.udel.edu/PR/munroe/chapter9.html]
Today, forms of servitude are quite common in amateur and professional athletics, seen, for example, in its non-criminal form when first-year players are made to pick up veteran playersâ€™ luggage at their hotels. Another practice around today that dates back to medieval universities is that of newcomers, be they European scholars or rookie football players, paying for lavish meals for older scholars or team veterans. While no one is arguing that such practices as servitude or forcing someone to â€œvoluntarilyâ€ buy a meal are non-criminal (although the latter takes money out of a rookieâ€™s pocket as neatly as if his billfold were lifted), they clearly do contribute to the misguided and widespread notion that hazing is a part of tradition or the athletic culture. It also ignores the fact that experts on ritual such as Tom F. Driver have noted that often violence and ritual go hand-in-glove, a claim that once again resonated with me in November, 2002 after I read that a professional hockey player, Joe Corvo, was charged with beating and groping a female patron, a stranger to him, in a public restaurant during the Manchester Monarchsâ€™ annual â€œrookie initiation.â€
To be sure, historically, many newspapers in North America and abroad have condemned, or at least criticized, hazing practices. When a hazing death occurred or was suspected, the incident merited large, screaming headlines and, occasionally, lurid illustrations that suggested the hazers possessed demonic characteristics. This was as true in 1873, 1894, and 1899, when hazing-related deaths occurred at Cornell University, as it was in 1928 when a University of Texas Longhorn football player died from electrical shock while going through a bizarre fraternity hazing, as it was in 1990 when Nick Haben died of alcohol poisoning after his lacrosse club initiation at Western Illinois University. It is also important to point out that the preponderance of more severe types of hazingâ€”those involving the gulping of alcohol, or improper touching of a rookieâ€™s body, or violent assault, or criminal wrongdoing (e.g., requiring new players to steal from stores or to take things from others on a scavenger hunt)â€”are far more common after 1983 (though some forms of objectionable or dangerous athletic hazing certainly did occur before that date). [footnote] Thus, it has taken some sports reporters and commentators such as Bryant Gumbel a bit of time to recognize (as Gumbel did in an HBO investigative piece on high school hazing in 2002) that hazing no longer is restricted to non-criminal activities such as veterans having a rookie push peanuts down a hallway with his/her nose or sing a fight song. Gumbel formerly had pooh-poohed hazing on several occasions while a morning host on the Today Show.
My contention here in this essay isnâ€™t that it is necessary, or arguably even desirable, that news reporters condemn hazing in news articles, merely that they refrain from sanctioning such practices as hazing or presenting them as acceptable diversions for veteran players as a form of amusement or tradition.
Today, I must point out, some sportswriters in some newspapers have condemned hazing in professional sports or they have quoted coaches who forbid all forms of hazing. Such news coverage is, as it should be, as objective as possible and contains quotations from those who variously condemn and defend acts of hazing. Even hazing in professional sports drew widespread critical news coverage following injuries to rookies Cam Cleeland and Jeff Danish after Cleeland was bashed in the eye with a bag of coins and Danish was thrown partially through a window and cut up.
The bulk of the examples I have chosen as models are news stories in which some sportswriters let professional coaches and athletes get away with acts of hazing. With scarcely any mention that the fight against hazing has gone on for some time in amateur hockey and high school/college sports, these writers give professional athletes/coaches the idea that what they do is somehow fun and socially acceptable, not shameful and cowardly.
This is not to say that print media endorsement of hazing by teen athletes is entirely absent. For example, Sports Illustrated columnist Richard Huffer wore an essay called â€œPraising Hazingâ€ (September 13, 1999) that not only implied that pro players who tape rookies to goalposts have the common sense to know when not to let things get out of hand, but made light of so-called â€œatomic situpsâ€ expected of some high school rookie athletes in which they are blindfolded and duped into doing situps so that their noses slam into a veteranâ€™s buttocks or genitals. To his credit, Hoffer warns that high school and college hazing activities ought to be verboten, but he ignores the fact that younger, amateur athletes do emulate the hazing they witness in pro sports. Plus, being immature, they take things to a dangerous extreme. It would have been only journalistically ethical for SI to run a rebuttal column mentioning the reports of high school hazing-related sodomies/sexual attacks in Massachusetts, Canada, Texas, California, Washington and Pennsylvania, as a sort of counter-viewpoint to Hoffer’s smirky column in defense of juvenile behavior.
Notably, decades and a century ago and now, some of the most vigorous condemnations of hazing printed in newspapers are to be found in letters to the editor. On November 22, 1903, an anonymous letter protesting hazing â€œbarbarityâ€ was signed by an â€œAmerican Motherâ€ and published in the New York Times. â€œBy what right shall the student or company of students so maltreat one of his comrades that insanity or lifelong disfigurement or even death shall follow and suffer at most expulsion from college,â€ she wrote. â€œPublic spirit should rise and protest vigorously against the continuance of this practice. Let the full penalty of the law follow murder or assault or misdemeanor in the ranks of the college as it does in civic life, and hazingâ€”often a misnomer for crueltyâ€”will become but a hideous memory.â€
Compare the tone and message of the preceding letter with this implied approval of so-called mental hazing at Brown University that appeared in a front-page article in the same New York Times on February 21, 1922. Note especially the word â€œtime-honoredâ€ which clearly editorializes in a news article, as well as the apparent acceptance as fact of mere justifications for hazing offeredâ€”not by psychologistsâ€”but mere undergraduates.
â€œNow upper class men are substituting mental torture by methods learned in psychological course instead of by the time-honored custom of paddling. Two of the leading fraternities have adopted the new system and are pronouncing their work good. Others are expected to follow, as the results are declared to leave the initiated in a much more tractable state of mind and imbued with a â€˜proper sense of his unworthiness.â€
Now let us look at some of the examples I have culled to use for instructive purposes in this essay. By no means are these examples inclusive, meaning that they represent hundred of similar errors or biass that I have located in newspaper sports coverage of hazing during a ten-year period. These errors can be located in the text of some articles and in the headlines of some others. For simplicityâ€™s sake, I have broken these examples into three categories:
1) Errors of Omission or Commission in Use of Terminology.
Simply stated, defenders of hazing are often eager to call their actions anything other than hazing. Journalists should not make the job easier for them by calling â€œhazingâ€ a term that fails to fit the definition of hazing. Namely, hazing involves any action explicitly required or implicitly expected of a newcomer by team veterans or coaches in which the newcomer gives up status temporarily to do something required by a veteran or veteransâ€”willingly, seemingly willingly, or unwillinglyâ€”in order to gain acceptance and veteran status in the eyes of teammates. Such activity may be criminal (prohibited by state statute), illicit (prohibited by institution or team rules), or both.
What complicates the matter of criminal hazing is that an action that is prosecuted for hazing in one state or locale is not prosecuted in another because state laws on hazing vary significantly and/or because prosecuting attorneys have shown varying degrees of willingness or unwillingness to prosecute such instances. Thus, occasionally, some hazing actions that probably could result in conviction and punishment go unpunished, although details of what went on may become apparent if a player or a playerâ€™s family launches a civil lawsuit.
What complicates the issue even more is that some actions that involve risk and/or acts of negligence by hazers become criminal only if a victim complains or law enforcement officials/educators intervene when they observe such an act. Thus, a player asked to drink alcohol by the team may become sick, but his fellows may only face criminal punishment if the rookie is hospitalized (or, in the case of lacrosse club player Nick Haben, dies). In fewer than half the of the forty-three states with hazing laws, willingness of the victim to participate in his own hazing is irrelevant.
All this is irrelevant at the professional sports level where even acts of hazing that clearly to me violate a state law go unpunished by a team or league officials. It is especially ludicrous to me that the National Football League chooses to take no action after the two New Orleans Saints rookies were beaten by a pack of some thirty veterans, and yet the league steps in time after time to fine or suspend players for actions seemingly less egregious.
High school and college players (and casual observers) write me occasionally to ask how professional players can haze with apparent impunity, while schools expel, suspend, or in other ways punish high school or college players who perform similar acts of hazing. â€œHi I’m a greek from an international fraternity, and I recently saw on ESPN Sportscenter the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills hazing their rookies,â€ wrote Joe Finn on August 23, 2002 in a letter to me. â€œThey taped them to poles, poured ice water and Gatorade on them and made them do silly tricks. If they can do this without ANY retaliation, why can’t my fraternity do the same? Because we’re not rich football players? This is rude.â€
Clearly the question Finn poses is valid and should be asked by sports reporters and commentators, but rarely is. The ESPN coverage is all the more remarkable given its April 2000 series on hazing in high school and college sports which is still available on its website as of January 2003. [http://espn.go.com/otl/hazing/monday.html]
In addition, reporters and/or headline writers inaccurately refer to hazing as horseplay or pranks. More rarely, Iâ€™ve seen an act of negligence or prank gone wrong called â€œhazing,â€ but the term is inaccurate since it was done by one veteran to another. On the other hand, if rookies or fraternity pledges ban together to take action against older players or members who are hazing them, that type of activity generally has been called hazing in a handful of civil lawsuits I have seen.
Here are some examples of incorrect terminology:
A headline writer for The Detroit News on September 24, 2001 wrote this: â€œRookies provide punch in victory over Red Sox, then endure team prank.â€ The â€œprankâ€ was hazing, albeit non-criminal, in which the clothes of rookies were removed by veterans so that the newcomers had to wear bibs and diapers upon leaving a ballpark.
In the issue of February 20, 2001, a University of Texas Daily Texan article headline referred to then NBA rookie Chip Mihmâ€™s hazing as â€œbeing educated at pro level.â€ Under no circumstances does hazing by players a few years older than a victim constitute educating. In fact, â€œeducatingâ€ is what the sportswriter should be doing here for the public, instead of minimizing the activity in what purportedly is a news story.
Another way in which sportswriters do their readers a disservice is by word or term choices that imply hazing is ordinary or expected at the professional level. Thus, on August 18, 2002, the Hartford Courant referred to the â€œstandard rookie hazingâ€ of first-year quarterback David Carr. The Rocky Mountain News on December 13, 2002 refers to the practice of making rookies sing as an â€œold NFL hazing ritual,â€ which is accurate but makes no attempt to inform readers that hazing is banned. Likewise, the Florida Times-Union on August 4, 2002 carried a story which asserted that â€œRookie hazing is part of the lore of the NFL,â€ with the word â€œloreâ€ implying that there is something time-honored or even respectable about hazing.
Then again, a sportswriter will accept a coachâ€™s assertion that hazing is banned, and then note one or two lesser indignities that rookies have had to submit to. For example, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on December 11, 2002, wrote that Green Bayâ€™s Coach â€œSherman wonâ€™t tolerate hazing,â€ then described the ritual in which rookies are forced to spend money to buy obligatory food and snacks for veteran players. Simply stated, reporters need to call hazing what it is and not let coaches get away with calling their teams â€œhazing-freeâ€ when such is not the case.
Here is another example. Sportswriter Bob LeGere of the Chicago Daily Herald makes a point that Coach Dick Jauron considers hazing senseless, then a few paragraphs later writes this:
One time-honored tradition that Jauron does permit is the rookies carrying the veterans’ shoulder pads back to the locker room after practice, which he considers harmless.
Thatâ€™s just the point. Hazing endures precisely because perpetrators, whether putting their testicles on anotherâ€™s face, asking someone to chug grain alcohol, or merely forcing someone to endure public embarrassment, excuse their actions by saying what theyâ€™ve done was â€œno big dealâ€ or â€œharmless.â€ If a coach considers a behavior to be harmless, he or she should then put the specific acts allowed into a team policy. Otherwise, dozens of cautionary tales exist to enlighten coaches where seemingly innocent silly initiations have escalated into dangerous or illegal acts of hazing.
On occasion, sports reporters fail to offer their readers a context when they describe a hazing ritual in such a way to make the reader feel that what is going on is both ordinary and funny. A headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune for August 14, 1998, carried this misleading message which made light of the hazing practice of tying Minnesota Vikings rookies to a goalpost and turned the headline into a silly play on words: â€œRookies experience tape delayâ€ read the headline. Here is an excerpt from what the writer Don Banks termed â€œannual festivitiesâ€:
In a camp tradition nearly as old as the pigskin itself, some Vikings veterans closed their 18-day Mankato stay by taping linebacker Shawn Stuckey and cornerback Anthony Bass back to back to the goalpost after the conclusion of practice.
The story ends with a quote that implies the reporter regards hazing as all fun and games:
“Funniest rookie skit I’ve ever seen in the NFL,” said quarterbacks coach
Chip Myers, a 25-year league veteran.
To put this story into context, the article appeared one year after a well-publicized high school hazing incident occurred in Minnesota that resulted in the passage of a state anti-hazing law. Also in context, two days earlier, another Minneapolis Star Tribune writer referred to the taping of ballboysâ€”minorsâ€”to goalposts by players as fun. Kristen Davis wrote this:
Some players have a little extra fun with the ball boys,
occasionally taping them to benches and goalposts.
Davis wrote that some ballboys claim not to like the fun and quoted one who said things are worse if they struggle. Then she quotes equipment manager Dennis Ryan who presumes to speak for all the ballboys when he clearly states his misguided opinion that the taping minors to a goalpost is nothing to worry about in an age of lawsuits and parental concerns about the well-being of their children:
Dennis Ryan thinks they like it.
“These guys have something that they can go back home and tell their buddies about, and I think they’re pretty proud of that,” he said.
Likewise, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on July 31, 2001 carried this â€œno big dealâ€ description of hazing when referring to the arrival in camp of then-rookie David Terrell of the Chicago Bears:
Terrell expects a hazing period from his teammates, but says it’s nothing he hasn’t already endured in high school and college.
Something similar to the preceding story also appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on August 20, 1999. A sportswriter wrote a piece following up a claim by then-Cleveland Browns head coach Chris Palmer that hazing would not be tolerated. Instead of pointing out the coachâ€™s hypocrisy, or at least that he ran things in apparent disarray, she noted that Palmer briefly â€œgot in on the funâ€ as veterans chased down and taped three first-year players to a goalpost. The sportswriter conclude her piece in a way that made it clear hazing had occurred but included no quotes from anyone demanding that the coach ought to be held accountable. Here is how the story ended:
Palmer explained that the rookies walked through the defensive line “and didn’t respect them properly.”
Asked about his hazing ban, he said, “I don’t know if it’s technically hazing.”
Coulda fooled the rookies.
Unfortunately, because the â€œno big dealâ€ excuse is used by hazers to justify any sort of hazing action whatsoever, reporters ought to be doubly vigilant about what they write. See these claims made by hazers:
Asking an initiate to swim can be dangerous. A Colgate University freshman marooned on an island then drowned when he tried to make it to shore. A fraternity pledge at the University of Nevada-Reno drowned the fall of 2002 while with other pledges past midnight in an on-campus lake. A University of Texas spirit club (members fire the cannon during Longhorn football games after a touchdown) pledge named Gabe Higgins died in the Colorado River after being asked to drink alcohol and perform exercises. But here is how The Journal News, in a well-written, balanced story, quoted Hendrick Hudson (New York State) soccer players describing the practice of marooning rookies on an island so they would have to swim for shore as “just a little joke.”:
Soccer team co-captain Henry Leon said it was no big deal.
“Every year, it was a tradition that we did this,” said Leon, a
senior. “You take a freshman, and you take them out and leave
them somewhere. It was just a
tradition, but we decided to change it and make it more fun … It
was no more than a 20-foot swim.”
“We left them in a place where they live close enough, maybe 10
minutes walking,” he said. Leon said he and other players
became worried when they
returned in an hour, and the two students were gone. But, he
added, “we knew
they were definitely alive and where they were. The whole thing
was totally a joke.”
One stranded student said 10 team members drove them to the
reservoir in a four-car caravan. The teen-ager said he wasn’t
forced, and the entire episode “was not really that serious.”
“We didn’t need to be initiated,” he said. “The only reason we
were on the
teams is because we were good athletes. It was just a joke, and
everyone blew it out of proportion.”
Likewise, in another well-written, balanced article published in Macleanâ€™s on March 6, 2000, a former University of Vermont hockey player says this about hazing:
Other Canadian players maintained that this year’s UVM hazing was relatively mild compared with former initiations — but similar to what they went through in junior hockey in Canada. Benoit Lampron, now in his last year on a hockey scholarship, admitted that when he was hazed at UVM in 1996, players were stripped naked and forced to do push-ups in the freezing water of Lake Champlain — a practice that was stopped after one player suffered an asthmatic attack. As well, there was an event called “the olive run” where freshmen were made to carry olives between their buttocks while being struck with wooden cooking spoons. Lampron admits that, to outsiders, this makes the hockey players look like “perverts.”
But he quickly added: “This is pretty much what we do in Canada. There, it’s no big deal.”
Hazers have made similar claims about hazing being no big deal even after they have been charged with sexually assaulting a rookie. My point in using the above quotations is that sportswriters need to put claims by hazers into careful context when hazers minimize their actions or rationalize them. Perhaps the best caveat is that for years before the New Orleans Saints 1998 incident, sportswriters covering the team again and again emphasized the entertaining aspects of hazing.
For example, on August 3, 1997, Brian Allee-Walsh of the New Orleans Times-Picayune found several forms of hazing to be entertaining enough to highlight them in his article headlined â€œRookies Keep Cool-Headed During Hazingâ€â€”a play on words since all rookies were given shaved heads by â€œrazor-wieldingâ€ veterans. Here are some excerpts from Allee-Walshâ€™s article:
From now on, the phrase “a little off the top” will have new meaning for the New Orleans Saints’ 1997 draft class. The veterans have seen to that.
Hair today, gone tomorrow. It is the rite of passage into the NFL.
Veterans have razzed rookies since Day 1 of the league’s inception, so the goings on in Camp Ditka are typical of NFL camps. Rookies are at the low end of the totem pole. Consequently, they are required to carry veterans’ helmets and shoulder pads off the practice field, fetch blocking dummies and water carts and perform other such menial tasks.
And while Coach Mike Ditka soon changed his tune about hazing after the injuries to the rookies in 1998 produced talk of a lawsuit, he had plenty say about the fun and joys of hazing in the 1997 piece by Allee-Walsh: “I don’t mind the razzing,â€ said Ditka. â€œI think it’s part of the price you pay.â€ Ditka also asked players to cool their hazing in 1998 but only because the 1997 hazing ritual had gotten out of hand and caused widespread property damage.
It isnâ€™t as if the Saintsâ€™ problems as a result of hazing were anything new either. Sportswriters were well aware, or should have been, that in 1994, at a nightclub during a rookie initiation, New Orleans veteran Lorenzo Neal sucker-punched and broke the jaw of a number two draft pick, Mario Bates, after Bates refused to submit to mild servitude required by Neal, the buying of a drink.
III) Allowing Hazers to Denigrate the Hazed
Reporters covering professional hazing again and again quote teammates and coaches who make fun of rookies embarrassed by the hazing they go through. Since the reciprocal nature of hazing is such that the rookies who are abused then become the abusers, these quotations in print add further humiliation to what they have already endured. And while I wonâ€™t deny that a reporter has the right to use any quotations he or she obtains for a news story, I think the least a reporter can do is get quotations from experts on athletic hazing such as Norm Pollard of Alfred University who can put those quotations in some context. Or, perhaps even better, they could quote someone such as a now-chastened former New Orleans Coach Ditka who has since come out against physical hazing in the strongest possible terms, although he did permit razzing and acts of servitude even after the Cleeland-Danish incident.
Quotations from veterans that are smug or arrogant at the expense of rookies, as they stand, allow a reporter to, in effect, writestories that add insult to injury or insult after a hazing has occurred. For example, here is a selection from â€œGiants Give Extreme Haircuts To Rookiesâ€ by Buster Olney of the New York Times on August 22, 2002. Note the writerâ€™s use of â€œlow-grade hazingâ€ as if it were fact, not his opinion:
The Giants rookie Ryan Deterding may not keep the haircut administered to him by the team’s offensive linemen, and he may not fully appreciate the artistic vision required in its formation. But Deterding probably knows instinctively that no other human in the world has a haircut like his: a shoehorn of hair cut on the left side of his head, a ragged rectangle mowed across the other side, with a tuft of hair hanging on the front, as if someone had tacked a hand broom on his forehead.
Deterding was one of a half-dozen rookie linemen to get the haircuts, in a ritual of low-grade hazing. “Those guys look like the Three Stooges,” Giants Coach Jim Fassel said, grinning. “That’s embarrassing.”
The experts in the Alfred University collegiate survey on hazing did conclude that athletes seem to be much in need of team acceptance and rituals marking player status as rookie and veteran. For that reason, Pollard and his colleague Nadine Hoover concluded that positive or humorous initiations such as skits could be acceptable, and that small symbolic acts of servitude such as carrying team balls (but not other acts of servitude such as carrying luggage) might post an acceptable boundary. Athletes themselves and even Ditka have argued persuasively that the signing of fight songs in camp by rookies is a harmless tradition, as well.
My own view is that such activities can only be acceptable if there are league and team rules that set clear limits as to what can and cannot be deemed acceptable as an initiation before degrading acts of hazing take over. Such guidelines would also be useful to sportswriters who then would have to think twice before writing news stories that put illicit or illegal acts of hazing in a favorable light. [Update: July 27, 2010.Â My own view and that of many hazing experts has been that the fact that even light hazing ought to be eliminated. That mentoring is more productive. That showing a first-year player his place is counterproductive. That in our age of extremism, where New Orleans Saints players once brained two players in a gang-like beating; where high school players have been pummeled and anally penetrated, and where alcohol deaths have become a news staple….that even the lighter forms of hazing need to go. Humiliation of rookies needs to stop. Period. Whether it be in high school, college, amateur or professional sport. HN]
Selected Works Cited
Driver, Tom F. (1991) The Magic Ritual: Our Need for Liberating Rites That Transform Our Lives and Our Communities. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.
Nuwer, Hank. (1990) Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing. Atlanta: Longstreet Press.
Nuwer, Hank. (2000) High School Hazing: When Writes Become Wrongs. Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts/Scholastic.
Nuwer, Hank. (2002 rev. ed.) Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing & Binge Drinking. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Pollard, Norm, et al. Initiation Rites and Athletics: A National Survey of NCAA Sports Teams. Alfred, NY: Alfred University.
Thorndyke, Lynn. (1944). University Records and Life in the Middle Ages. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bio: Hank Nuwer is an Indiana journalist and journalism professor. He is the author of three books on hazing and is a past adviser to Alfred University on its NCAA survey of hazing among college athletes.