Hazing

This man disagrees with hazing. Do you agree? - Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

A few thoughts and a personal story about hazing, and then a question.

This story is not about Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin, or the Miami Dolphins. If you want the best updates on the particulars of that situation, I suggest you check out The Phinsider, SBNation's Dolphins blog. Instead, this article is more focused on the practice, and various viewpoints of, hazing altogether.

First off, a quick hat tip to The Vikings Age for doing a good write up yesterday regarding Jared Allen's feelings on the overall situation. I'm not going to delve too much into it because I don't want to rob them the deserved click, but in essence Allen feels that hazing can be a locker room building experience. (That's not to say that Allen thinks it's OK to leave a voicemail to someone threatening to slap their real mother.)

And it has been pointed out a few times how Vikings HC Leslie Frazier, a former player (and therefore at some point likely someone on both ends of some hazing, but I can't say that for certain), instituted a no-hazing policy as one of his first moves on the job. He felt it was unnecessary, and I never really heard about any Vikings violating the policy overall.

Basically, in recap, that's the extent of how the Vikings can even be tangent-of-a-tangent connected to the Miami story. Some veterans on the team who were hazed and did some hazing think it's OK, our HC disagrees, and the team has yielded (correctly so in any way you look at it, considering it's the head coach's order) to Frazier's view.

But which side of that is correct? Again we're not getting into details, but there is no way you defend Richie Incognito's version of hazing. And if the Dolphins really did turn a blind eye or even in some way encourage what he was doing, then there's no defending that either. But by and large hazing rarely seems to cross the line that it did there, to the point that a player left the lunch hall and vowed to never return to his team. Yes, Prince Amukamara seems to have been on the end of some relatively harsher-than-usual hazing (and more surprisingly, in his second year). But it seems more the exception than the rule for what Martin was experiencing. But is any hazing OK?

Interestingly enough, former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe weighed in shortly after (OK, it's not ‘interesting' that he weighed in at all considering him, but what he had to say was). In his view, he felt that having a rookie carry pads or go pick up food before a flight (his two specific examples) is OK. I found that slightly interesting because Kluwe is known as a major human rights activist, warrior for the ‘little man', and a vehement opponent of bullying in any form. But even he felt that those little and rather traditional means of hazing was acceptable.

The other common hazing practice we hear about is the first round pick having to buy a team dinner, often with a staggering bill after the fact. Granted this may be changing with the rookie wage cap, meaning that those first round picks aren't making the insane money that they were in yesteryear. Again, these kinds of hazing come across as non-news and simply NFL tradition when you hear about them.

But is it OK? Again, Frazier seemed to think all of that was unacceptable, and more importantly, unnecessary.

Proponents of hazing like Jared Allen feel that it builds camaraderie. You pay your dues, you take it like a man, prove yourself, and then next year it's your turn to test the new guy. It's a simple rite of passage, nothing more. And the NFL is certainly not the only place that hazing occurs- basically, anytime a group of men create a ‘brotherhood' and a new guy shows up, there's often some level of hazing. (That's not to say that women don't haze each other either mind you. But since we're looking at the NFL, I'm going to focus more on how men do it to each other.) College fraternities, military groups, etc. It happens.

And quite often it can also cross lines. There are true horror stories from fraternities where victims of hazing die. Where it crosses over from a "prove yourself rite of passage" to nothing more than vicious bullying and brutalizing someone for no reason other than the fact that they are new.

Is this reason why Frazier banned it? Because he was aware that hazing can go from "harmless fun" to "vicious torture"? Because he was cognizant of the fact that a team that fosters a culture of hazing can face incredible issues when someone like Incognito arrives in the locker room? Or does Frazier truly believe that a rookie having to carry a veteran's pads during their first training camp is pointless and harmful?

Of course we have no idea. He has simply said he feels its "unnecessary". He's probably not the kind of guy to share that he fears it could go too far though, so again, his reasons are his and we're not likely to ever fully know. But the point is that someone who, again, was a former player himself disliked the practice enough to ban it.

There are two sides to the hazing debate, and we're going to focus more on the "harmless" (and yes, I will continually use quotes around that word because it's a matter of perspective whether any hazing is harmless or not) hazing, not the cross-the-line hazing. Because again, if you're putting someone's life in danger, if you're leaving voicemails not only threatening them but threatening their mother, then you've gone into completely indefensible territory.

On a personal note, I've been hazed and hazed others. A former kickboxer who ran his own academy and built up his own stable of fighters, I definitely was a part of that "men building a brotherhood so we haze" group. When I was 17 and was first training to be an amateur competitor, after deciding I wanted to take it very seriously, there was a rite of passage that had to be passed. The head coach there was also a K9 Sherriff's deputy and a former Marine. (Very tough guy, but also one of the nicest you'll ever meet.) Normally you had to be 18 in order to join the amateur fighters. But I begged and pleaded, and was offered a chance- with a catch. Anyone who wanted to enter the ring and fight another man had to prove they were tough enough. So the deal was: you got pepper sprayed, and had to spar immediately afterwards. By the way pepper spray carried by K9 officers? Yeah, it's not the pepper spray you can buy for your girlfriend (which that stuff is bad enough, if you didn't know). It's totally harmless in the long run- it causes 0 permanent damage whatsoever. But if you want to experience the 7th circle of hell, take a full stream in the eyes and try and fight someone through it.

The night it was determined I would experience this rite of passage I was told to run out and toss the garbage bag. I did. It was hot that night so after I jogged back, I was sweaty and oh were my pores open. The second I walked back in there he was, and with a hearty laugh he laced two streams right across my wide open eyes. For a second nothing happened and I actually thought "oh this is easy".

Then it hit.

As I crumbled for a second under the worst pain I'd ever experienced (and I fell and dislocated both my hip and shoulder once as a child), suddenly going totally blind, everyone was cracking up. Two people grabbed me by the arms and led me- again, 100% blind- into the ring, where a fighter was waiting (also laughing). The bell began, and he began to "spar" me. I use quotes because he didn't really hit me. Open hand, soft smacks to the face and body, nothing that would even leave a bruise. I was swinging wildly for my life mind you, but he didn't care (not like I could actually hit him blind anyways). He just kept laughing and smacking me around for a bit. The bell rang again after what felt like 28 hours (actually 3 minutes) and that was that. I couldn't breathe, and the tears had washed the spray down onto my shoulders, where I kid you not it was so strong that even there it burned like fire.

Everyone gathered around. Nobody stopped laughing for a good hour. I was told to get on my knees and bend over- the last thing I wanted was for that spray to continue running down my body onto my, ahem, more sensitive areas. And every time I reached to rub my eyes my hand was forcefully snatched and held. Rubbing makes it worse and last longer. But that was the only help I got. For 30 minutes I knelt there, snot and tears covering me, choking and blind. Every passing minute the pain got worse- not better. There was milk to eventually ease it after my half hour of penance was up, and I could hear everyone making chugging sounds and saying that they had decided to drink it instead (which I feared very much was true, but wasn't). And after 30 minutes I was stood up onto my feet, there was roaring applause, and milk was doused onto my face as someone kept wiping at my stomach to again keep it from running somewhere I really didn't want. 5 minutes after receiving that magical cure I was better- eyes swollen but once again functioning, still choking up gobs of snot but able to breath steadily. At 17, this Sherriff stuck an open beer out to me. He had double checked with my father and knew it was OK. He told me he imagined I wanted it, and that I would never earn a beer so much again in my life (wasn't true but whatever). Everyone cracked one open (a very rare thing for fighters), cheered me, and after a swig I was lifted and carried out of the training ring. And from that day forward I was one of them, not a boy amongst men but, in their eyes, a 17 year old man who they would now support, help, and if necessary defend.

What sounds to some like a horrible story is an incredible source of pride to me to this day. I still keep in touch with many of those men, including the very coach who initiated that experience. He still laughs when I bring it up. Still teases me when I make fun of him, saying that he's going to spray me again. But let me tell you, from that day forward no one ever questioned me.

Yet, as I grow older, I think to myself "would I want my son to go through that"? Again, as a minor, my father was surreptitiously contacted and his approval sought. His feeling was at the time "well, if it's not going to do any permanent damage and if he's dumb enough to agree to it, maybe it'll put some intelligence in his head". Which was a fine response really. But that was something I asked for, something I begged for. I knew what was going to happen. I knew the ‘risk' and the ‘reward'. 30 minutes of horrific agony in exchange for a lifetime of acceptance. And yes, later I did watch and participate as others went through the same.

But... would I want my son to do that? Would I want my son to have to go through that? I don't think what happened to me was wrong at all. I don't think the actions of those around me was ill-intended, and again I do personally thank them. But it's always different when you speak about yourself compared to your child. What's OK for me isn't OK for him. Do I want my son to ever be in a position where, in order to receive acceptance, he must suffer? That's where my thoughts suddenly change, in that hypocritical way when you contemplate things from a parent's perspective.

I would personally deem that having to carry pads is probably less haze-errific than being pepper sprayed and sparring afterwards. But the base concept is the same: lower and demean yourself, become the second-class citizen, before you are accepted as one of us. Is that necessary? Why should it be?

On one hand you say "well you must prove yourself before you can be trusted". But how does carrying pads or being pepper sprayed prove trustworthiness? How does that prove that this is someone you actually want around in your brotherhood? All it proves is that they're willing to do whatever it takes to be accepted (maybe not whatever but you get my point). It doesn't prove they're a good person, that they're going to be a good teammate. It means they're willing to carry pads- and that's it. Is that really necessary?

Again, returning to the original point, Coach Frazier doesn't think so. Jared Allen disagrees. Frazier might argue that your effort on the field and your conduct in the locker room during your first year is your rite of passage. And that acceptance isn't something earned once, but something constantly worked for. And Allen would argue that little extras prove a little more. That if you're not willing to prove yourself by grabbing the pads, then you can't be trusted.

Which one is right? Again, my own experience and then my later thoughts really give me a very oxymoronic view. I think it's great that I went through it and I have pride in it. And I would also think it's unnecessary whatsoever for my son. That no simple, demeaning, one time rite of passage will prove his worth and value more than a constant strong character. It was OK for me but it wouldn't be for him.

What say you, fellow Norseman? Who, in this debate, is right? Is Leslie Frazier's view that it's unnecessary, that there are better and more sure ways to gain acceptance, correct? Or is Jared Allen's view that we must all pay our dues first the right view? Let's hear it.

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