Posted: Friday August 6, 2010 11:59AM ; Updated: Monday August 9, 2010 1:21AM
Ross Tucker

NFL hazing: fair or foul? Answering all your questions on a hot topic

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I don't and never did consider any of the stuff I did in the NFL to be "hazing"

"Hazing" of some sort is a big part of many industries

There's value in having experienced colleagues dole out duties to newbies

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Dez Bryant
Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant made hazing a national topic when he refused to carry veteran teammate Roy Williams' pads.

My article on the Dez Bryant "hazing" incident, and I use that term loosely, created quite a firestorm among the readers. Here are some additional mailbag questions and my responses.

"Rookies have done nothing in pro football. It doesn't matter how high they were drafted, how talented they are, or what their accomplishments may have been in college. All of that is irrelevant."

And the veterans have never done anything for that rookie. What does that rookie owe them? Nothing. (No, not his job.)

Usually, I agree with you wholeheartedly, as your arguments are very rational. Though, you attempt a rational argument on why Bryant was wrong, you ultimately fail and get sucked into group think and tribe mentality on this one.

As a former college player and coach I completely disagree ... Bryant was correct on all accounts.
-- Chad Cressley, Arlington, Va.

I'm amazed at the amount of anger people have over a guy being asked to carry a teammate's pads off a football field. My guess is a lot of those people have had bad personal experiences with hazing, and I can certainly appreciate that.

But I don't and never did consider any of the stuff I did in the NFL to be "hazing." If people are truly concerned about the negative consequences of hazing, I think they should direct their attention and anger to colleges everywhere. The stuff I was asked to do or things I subsequently asked rookies to do in the NFL pale in comparison to the things I did as a freshman in college when I pledged a fraternity. The irony is that my pledge brothers and I look back on and talk about that year with only the fondest of memories, and we are all much closer because of the things that we went through together. I think that's the point.

LOPEZ: Can the NFL really afford to keep turning a blind eye toward hazing?

We don't always see eye-to-eye, but I have to defend you (not that a beast like you needs defending) against Kathleen, from Washington D.C.'s, attack.

I don't like hazing either, but it serves a purpose in sports. It's the foundation to building camaraderie and TEAM. It's human nature to play harder for those you love and/or respect. If a rookie can take the hazing with a smile and realize it's a test to see how he fits in, he will be accepted that much quicker. Vets will help them and in some cases the rookies will push the vets to be better. It's about becoming a team.

Pass the test without complaint (Heck, maybe even enjoy it like a lot of rookies do) and it goes a long way in earning respect from the vets and becoming part of the team. Sorry, Kathleen. You really blew this one.
-- Jerry Chyo, Pacific Grove, Calif.

Agreed. All of the rookie indoctrination experiences I was involved with in the NFL were lighthearted and never malicious or mean-spirited. There is no doubt in my mind that it allows a young player to earn the respect of his elder teammates as he proves to them he can handle everything that is asked of him, both on the field and off. Respect and trust are vitally important in a game in which men have to trust each other to look out for each other's physical well-being.

Hazing in one form or another has been around in many areas other than the NFL. The fraternity-sorority activities on campus have it; military academy life really gets into it. Many fraternal organizations have some form of hazing -- initiation for new members. Even many small-town high schools allow the seniors to harass the freshmen for a day or a week.

It may be dumb or it may be acceptable, but as long as it exists in any organization -- such as the NFL -- then anyone not maintaining the tradition is basically making their own rules, and that's a no-no in a team sport like football. Alienating the veterans in this way may just result in paybacks in one way or another and certainly detracts from the comradeship that must exist on a team. First-year players on many teams are often reminded that they are on the bottom of totem pole or pecking list. (EG: Dean Smith required freshmen to carry equipment at UNC.) Even newbies in many jobs are reminded that they haven't gained equality until they pay the price by being at beck and call of the old timers.

All the veteran players on that field paid their dues as rookies -- can't sit very well to see a player refuse to participate in a tradition nearly as old as the NFL is.
-- Chip O'Connor, Dallas, Texas

That's an interesting way to look at it in terms of a person making their own rules, but I suppose if a person or team thinks it really is unacceptable, it has to end somewhere and at some point. From a lot of the e-mails I have received, it seems like "hazing" of some sort is a big part of many industries, and in particular, those in which people's lives could be on the line like firemen, policemen and the military.

Just had to respond regarding Kathleen in D.C.'s comments. I disagree with her on two points:

1. That you're an idiot. Last time I checked, Princeton wasn't admitting idiots, regardless of their athletic abilities.

2. Carrying pads and getting breakfast isn't hazing. It's not accurate to compare football to most businesses. The term "team" gets tossed around in business, but the truth is, it's describing co-workers not teammates, which is a big difference. Also, for those who don't think "rookies" in other occupations pay their dues, ask any intern about making coffee runs or any junior getting stuck with the most menial tasks.

Keep up the good work. While I don't always agree with you, your column is always interesting and your points well-argued ... for an "idiot."
-- Ken, Sunnyvale, Calif.

Actually, I think she said I was a "moron," but I appreciate your support. I am pretty confident, however, that there are times that people that know me -- like my sister, wife and friends -- may actually agree with Kathleen!

Quick word on the "hazing" stuff: Ask any first-year lawyer about hazing. Ha. Your firm hazes you, your opponents haze you, the judges haze you -- they all know you're a green and you suffer for it. Go into a courtroom; do you think the senior partner is carrying his own briefcase and all of the trial materials? I don't think so. But it toughens you up, and if you survive, you earn the respect of others.
-- Karl Osmus, Valdosta, Ga.

Duly noted. I have some friends who are lawyers and they confirmed this as well. In fact, I did several internships -- both in college and in the offseason my first couple of years in the NFL -- and I was pretty much always given the most menial tasks to complete, from filing and data entry to getting coffee or going out and picking up lunch. It didn't bother me. I was the young guy paying my dues and somebody has to get that work done -- it might as well be the new guy who is just learning the business and not yet ready to be in revenue-generating capacity.

Here's where your analogy on Dez Bryant breaks down. Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Belichick are all coaches and in a business context they are a rookie's boss. If they ask Dez Bryant or any other new employee to jump, the only response should be "how high." But Roy Williams is not Dez Bryant's boss. At best he is an experienced, but low-performing, colleague and potentially even a direct competitor for the desirable job of starting wide receiver. Unless told to do so by a superior, Dez Bryant is under no obligation to carry Roy Williams' pads, just like a new employee at a regular company is not required to get his peers lunch.
-- Olaf Weckesser, Toronto

I agree with the unique circumstances in this particular case and mentioned that in my column, but I do think that there is something different yet valuable in having experienced colleagues being the ones doling out the additional duties to the rookies. They are the ones that ultimately will be inside the white lines and battling alongside each other, not the coaches. And you're right: Bryant was under no obligation. That's part of what makes it special. Rookie players complete the tasks they are given because they want to be accepted as part of the team and go through the same process that the veterans went through to earn their stripes, not because they have to or are forced to do so.
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