Sunday, August 01, 2010

If Hazing Is Bad for Students, Then It's Probably Bad for Adults, Too

One of the big headlines in the Metroplex over the past week was the flap over Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant refusing to carry fellow receiver Roy Williams' shoulder pads after practice--an act which is evidently part of the "initiation" that rookies receive during NFL training camps. According to the Dallas Morning News' Todd Archer,
It is a rite of training camp to see rookies from any position carry the pads of veteran players after practice.

It is a minor bit of hazing that goes on everywhere but Bryant wants nothing to do with it. Seems as if Roy Williams asked Bryant to do it Sunday without success.

”I just feel like I'm here to play football," Bryant said. "I'm here to try to help win a championship, not carry someone's pads. I'm saying that out of no disrespect."

Some of you might remember Bill Parcells making the first rounder delivering a glass of water or Gatorade to him during water breaks. I wonder if Bryant wouldn't do that for the coach?
It seems to me like the player would likely do anything the coach asked him to do, because--huge salaries notwithstanding--the player is always in a subservient role to his coach. But is that true with his teammates, rookie vs. veteran status or not? Or is such behavior more than a "minor" bit of hazing, as Archer refers to it?

Well, some of the people across the country who are trying to wipe out hazing are more than happy with Bryant's decision. In a later DMN report a few days ago, we hear this:
"Hurray for Dez!" said Susan Lipkins, a psychologist whose expertise in hazing-related behaviors is nationally recognized.

She and others who battle hazing in schools and clubs hope that the focus on Bryant will help make their case. The message, they say, is particularly timely with back-to-school, the start of football practice, and fraternity and sorority rush right around the corner.

Hank Nuwer is another expert and author about hazing. He hopes Bryant set an example that younger players will be willing to follow.

"High school players imitate baseball hero stances, celebratory dances in end zones, creative high- and low-fives, and yeah, hazing," he said.
This is true. In my fraternity, I'm a regional officer whose duties include educating the collegiate chapters on ways to develop programs for probationary membership (yes, we've even done away with the term "pledgeship"), and I have to wonder what the major difference is between what veterans do to rookies in pro sports and what we're trying to eradicate on college campuses.

So is all hazing bad? And when is it hazing, as opposed to a harmless prank? Unfortunately (as I've heard at more seminars than I can count), it's not up to either the hazer or the hazee, at least once the legal system gets involved; at that point, it's totally up to a jury. (And I'm fully aware that a lot of hazing has its origins in the military, and its widespread occurrence on college campuses multiplied after World War II vets--who'd been hazed in the service--returned to college in droves at the end of the war. And I'll even go as far as to excuse its existence in that setting, and that setting alone; there aren't too many other situations where people are supposed to be transformed into lean, mean killing machines, so they get a pass from me for the moment.)

But does it have a place in professional sports? (And again, I'm not talking about the harmless pie-in-the-face pranks that seem to befall the hero of every Rangers game during the postgame TV interviews.) Or is this one more place that, like college and high school campuses, could stand to see hazing go away?

Here's one more morsel for thought, from the second linked story:
he hazing opponents say that there really is a slippery slope – what seems minor today can and does lead to escalation down the line. And what seems harmless to some people may hit a real nerve for others.

Travis Apgar was a pledge at a fraternity whose final initiation tradition included a new member pointing an unloaded pistol at his head. His frat did not know that Apgar's father had killed himself with a pistol. The ritual resurrected terrible psychological pain for the 18-year-old.

Today, he's the associate dean of students over fraternity and sorority affairs at Cornell University, and a well-known anti-hazing speaker. A former high school and college athlete, he applauded Bryant's refusal.

"I was proud of him," he said. "It wasn't an easy stand to take."
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