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Jim Zorn takes the high road on hazing: it’s outta here

By PAUL WOODY
TIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST

ASHBURN Jim Zorn never has forgotten that, as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys, he was required by the veteran players to sing during meals.

While that did not scar Zorn for life — he’s a bit of an extrovert — he understands that such things can have a long-term impact on a young player and an entire team.

For that reason, Zorn issued an executive order to the Washington Redskins, the team he now coaches.

No hazing of the rookies.

More coaches at the college and professional level need to issue such orders. Too often, hazing leaves the realm of being good-natured fun and becomes overt bullying.

Too often, the people doing the hazing forget how they felt when they were being humiliated. Instead, they take a perverse amount of pleasure in making someone else suffer.

That’s not good for anyone or any team.

Zorn isn’t the first NFL coach to ban hazing. He spent seven years as the quarterbacks coach for the Seattle Seahawks and thought it was excellent when Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren told his veteran players they would not haze any rookies.

“He told the veterans that our young guys are nervous enough trying to make the team,” Zorn said. “In my brain, I thought, ‘That’s it.’ What I’m talking about is singing, doing skits, having talent shows, you name it. A rookie getting ice for a veteran is not hazing. That’s doing someone a favor.”

The problem, as Zorn sees it, is that some young players can get beaten down if they constantly worry about having to sing during lunch or dinner or ruminate about their role in an end of a training camp skit.

Zorn understands the differences between hazing and traditions. The longstanding tradition with the Redskins is that rookies are required to provide the other players at their position with breakfast during Saturday-morning meetings.

Rookies sometimes pick up the checks when dining with veterans. Zorn isn’t going to mess with that. But Zorn is messing with singing and any other performance art.

“There may be a guy that bucks the system,” Zorn said. “He’s just too embarrassed. I’ve seen this. That person gets alienated because he won’t join in the ‘fun’ of hazing. Then, your team splinters.

“Early in my NFL coaching career, I saw a very high-round draft choice decide he wasn’t going to be hazed. He just would not do it. And he never really was accepted on the football team. He was ostracized, and it made things absolutely miserable. I don’t want that to happen.”

Instead, Zorn wants the Redskins’ rookies to think about their playbook, concentrate on eating well and getting the rest they need. Those things are challenging enough during training camp. The young players don’t need anything else to worry about.

Defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery, starting his third season with the Redskins, remembers being caught by surprise when he was ordered to sing as a rookie.

“It can be fun,” he said. “The secret is to pick a song everybody knows so they’ll start clapping and singing with you. But when you’re told to sing, you can never think of a song like that. I didn’t mind it, but if I had a choice, I definitely would not sing.”

The rookies had to endure a night of singing. Zorn had so many things on his mind when he first addressed the team that he didn’t get to hazing.

As for the veteran players’ thoughts on this, Zorn had an interesting take on that as well.

“I didn’t ask them,” he said, pointedly and firmly.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; 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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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