NFL Hazing: A Rite of Passage or a Crime?
To carry or not to carry? That is the question.
After Dez Bryant refused to carry Roy Williams’ gear, there seems to be a growing interest in NFL rookie hazing.
The word “hazing” brings to mind terrible tragedies resulting from college fraternity or sorority pranks that went terribly wrong or were taken too far.
Are the NFL rookie initiation practices the same thing?
First, I think we need to look at things more literally. Definitions will tell a big part of the story.
Hazing: various rituals/activities that involve humiliation, harassment or abuse used to initiate someone into a group
Initiation: a rite of passage ceremony marking acceptance into a group.
Rite of Passage: an event that marks a person's progress from one status to another.
Ritual: actions performed mainly for symbolic reasons (such as a tradition).
Crime: the breach of rules or laws outlined by a governing authority which can result in a conviction.
Obviously, NFL veterans have a tradition that involves some of the above—initiation, rite of passage, and rituals. But hazing?
We’ve all read the headlines that involve unfortunate circumstances resulting in the deaths of young men/women or boys/girls striving for acceptance.
Traditional “hazing” is common with gang activity and Greek letter organizations on college campuses. It is even common amongst the military men and women who fight for our freedom. However, it is also common in sports.
It can start with young children’s teams, throughout high school and college, and into professional sports.
The question is: when does an initiation or rite of passage become “hazing?" And is it a criminal act?
Some people say that NFL rookies who are “pranked” or “initiated” do not qualify as hazing. But even if abuse or harassment is left out of the ritual, the definition of the activity definitely involves humiliation.
Who is willing to say that being tied to the goal posts and having sports drinks dumped over your head is not humiliating?
Or Brady Quinn’s “involuntary haircut” given by Cleveland Browns veterans? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6zYiuBbyY0&feature=related)
These actions aren’t restricted to football alone. There are documented cases of initiation in all sports at all levels.
But back to Dez Bryant—should he carry the shoulder pads of veteran receivers?
It’s just one set of pads that he was asked to shoulder —the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Limas Sweed carried the pads of ALL veteran receivers off the field.
Pranks in the Workplace
A little humiliation is involved in these rituals. In all honesty, there are informal initiations performed in many other jobs, but they don’t make the headlines or get scrutinized by the media.
There are few people who have never had a prank pulled on them in certain social situations or even in the workplace.
There are certain circumstances under which these activities are considered acceptable, and even fun.
A crime involves activity that can result in prosecution or conviction. And that is precisely what happens when hazing goes too far. It seems pretty clear that criminal charges could result if abuse is involved or the activity results in death or injury.
So the real dilemma hinges on the definition of “humiliation."
Wikipedia definition: “Humiliation (also called stultification) is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It can be brought about through bullying, intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have committed a socially or legally unacceptable act.”
Apparently, Dez Bryant did not want to be embarrassed or humiliated, and he refused to give in to the bullying or intimidation by veteran players.
Apparently, Dez Bryant never involved himself in hazing any incoming freshmen at Oklahoma State University.
And apparently, Dez Bryant will never be involved in the harassment of NFL rookies in future seasons.
(Okay, maybe that is sarcasm...or wishful thinking!)
Bryant has a ton of talent and is poised to have a tremendous NFL career. This early drama and media attention may play against him—or it could be part of his master plan!
Either way, it’s obvious to most that the initiation of NFL rookies into the league is more a rite of passage than a crime.