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Is Hazing/Bullying an Issue for Pro Sports?

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NOV 25, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins guard

Richie Incognito

(68) celebrates a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins defeated the Seahawks 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

We’re now a couple weeks out from the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying scandal breaking.  We’ve heard bits and pieces leaking each day. Most people back Martin while a few back Incognito. Some news says Martin is the blameless victim while other news says Martin was just as inappropriate.

Current teammates say Martin has other issues going on and that’s the real problem. Former Incognito teammates say he’s a jerk – always been a jerk – will always be a jerk. They say he’s the problem.

Regardless of what the truth is, rookie hazing is something that needs to be looked at by all professional sports. Whether we support hazing as a harmless rite of passage and a way to build camaraderie, or we denounce hazing as an unnecessary form of bullying – it’s worth a discussion at the very least.

Before we really begin, let’s put the Martin/Incognito situation to bed. We don’t know enough to validly argue this specific incident so let’s not try. Instead let us look at hazing as whole. Virtually all former and current athletes have admitted to its existence in all four major US sports so it’s clearly a relevant topic.

What is Hazing?

First things first. What is hazing exactly? Is it the same as bullying, a milder form of bullying, or is it completely different from bullying? According to Encarta Dictionary, hazing as a transitive and intransitive verb is defined as “to persecute or torture somebody in a subordinate position, especially a first-year military academy cadet or a fraternity pledge.”

Well that doesn’t sound good at all now does it!

In today’s anti-bully society the name and classification are very important. In recent years society has become very intolerant of anything bully-like.  To be called a bully is a serious accusation that can carry very harsh consequences and unforgiving attitudes. Because of that, it’s a word that shouldn’t be thrown around.

If you hear about bullying you probably get mad or upset. But what about Hazing? Do you feel differently when you hear about hazing? There really isn’t much of a difference between them and many defining characteristics overlap. When hearing of hazing, most people just shrug their shoulders – especially when it applies to sports. But consider this – If all actions were the same, and only the name was different, would we have a different opinion on the matter? Of course we would.

The word hazing, at the very least, seems like a harmless version of Bullying. The name hazing alone just brings up images of funny pranks and mild locker room jawing.  At least that’s what I think of when I hear the word “hazing”. You could be very different. And your friends may see it differently from both of us. The point is – the word “hazing” is really just a label. A label that can be extremely misleading at that.

Therefore for the purposes of fair discussion, let’s not pay attention to the labels but rather the actions. At the end of the day it’s really the actions that matter and the actions that can cross the line.

Jul 22, 2013; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver

Miles Austin

(19), wide receiver

Anthony Armstrong

(13) and tackle

Demetress Bell

(74) during drills at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Purpose of “Hazing”

There are many possible purposes for hazing but the main purpose is to establish respect for veterans.  Added benefits include camaraderie and exclusivity. Many sports fans have played organized sports at some point in their lives. The higher up the ladder the more experience you probably have with locker room dynamics. It’s safe to say we are no strangers to it.

Chances are some examples of hazing you’ve witnessed/experienced are reasonable and acceptable, while others are absurd and cruel. We are all different and draw the figurative line at different places (concerning what is acceptable and what is unacceptable hazing).

For those who have limited experience in locker rooms, the concept of hazing may be difficult to understand. To those people it’s hard to argue or justify even the slightest bit of hazing. The only way I can attempt to explain its value is by relating it to Boot Camp. In Boot Camp they work to beat you down. They strip you of your pride and arrogance and when you’re down, they build you back up. They build you up the right way. The people who endured together as peers form a special bond. The instigators/antagonists have also grown to respect those that endured. It can be an ugly process but the results are often great.

Does this suggest the “Ends” justify the “Means”?

No. Using the ends to justify the means in any situation is a dangerous and very slippery slope. I could tell you I can cut crime by 95% in one year. I could achieve this by enacting the death penalty for all felony offenders. Would it work? You bet. Is it right? Of course not. The point is just because something has effective results, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Nov 2, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks small forward Shawn Marion (0) and center Samuel Dalembert (1) sit on the bench during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Grizzlies 111-99. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The same goes for hazing.

Just because hazing works to build a team doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good thing. The line needs to be drawn and standards need to be set. We must decide what acceptable behavior is and what is not.

Setting the Standards

As with everything important and controversial standards need to be set. How can any of us expect to have any expectations if those expectations are not expressed?

Not only that but those expectations need to be agreed upon and accepted before we really hold someone to them. Currently hazing in sports is widely accepted. Whether we like it or not as fans and outsiders, most teams allow it to take place in some form.

The first question to ask is whether or not they should allow it. Keep in mind, pro franchises are micro-managed more than any business you or I have ever worked. They have the ability to stop it if they want to. They just don’t want to. Do we want them to?

I imagine this is where many of us split.

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