While it certainly won’t be the final word on hazing, this article by John P. Lopez addresses the hazing issue with the consideration that the NFL is a business and that hazing isn’t written into the collective bargaining issue. Here are a few snippets that are worth reading in advance.
There simply are not very many corporate monsters bigger or more meticulously managed than the multi-billion dollar NFL. Yet even the most innocent of hazing chores, like carrying a veteran’s shoulder pads to the locker room, could be interpreted as a violation of basic H.R. policy. It’s the football equivalent of one employee asking the new guy to go fetch coffee. That might have been OK back in the day, but any H.R. rep worth his or her weight in online sensitivity training will tell you it just doesn’t fly anymore.
One retired NFL veteran spoke of the “frank-n-buns” hazing tradition that occurred at a few NFL training camps in recent years. It involved rookies dropping their pants and dropping to all fours on the practice field, clinching a hot dog in their buttocks, and crawling. If the player dropped the hot dog, he was forced to eat it.
Another humiliating act still popular in many camps is tying a rookie to a goalpost and dousing him with water, sports drinks or shaving cream. In the 1980s, one team’s hazing tradition involved blindfolding rookies, standing them in a line and telling them to open their mouths. Veterans then made snorting and spitting sounds while tossing raw oysters into the players’ mouths and forcing them to swallow.
At the 1998 Saints training camp, rookies were forced to wear pillowcases and run through a gauntlet of players pushing and swinging at them. One player suffered a head injury, another suffered blurred vision. Still, the Saints’ incident was the exception. Most hazing traditions and veteran players would not remotely risk injuring high-priced rookies. Humiliating rookies, however, is another story.
And where has the NFL Players Association and chief DeMaurice Smith been on this issue? The NFLPA’s silence has been deafening and perhaps telling regarding hazing. When, coincidentally, Dez Bryant was asked an uncomfortable question regarding his mother during a pre-draft interview with the Dolphins, Smith and the NFLPA wailed. Said Smith: “We need to make sure the men of this league are treated as businessmen.”
OK. But once they are signed and delivered, Smith and the NFLPA allow them to be treated like 18-year-old fraternity pledges? There could be liability on both the league’s and the NFLPA’s part if just one seemingly innocent hazing goes awry and a player files a legal grievance.
By definition, hazing is an act that humiliates, degrades or abuses a person, regardless of that person’s willingness to participate. In that sense, the Cowboys and the NFL got off easy when Bryant refused to carry shoulder pads and simply spoke his mind. He could have hired a lawyer.