First off, let's make it clear that we believe the ritual flogging of college freshmen with wooden coat hangers is wrong, wrong, wrong. That's not wholesome hazing, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED won't stand for it. Nor do we condone gantlets, forced drinking or so-called atomic sit-ups. We are, almost unanimously, against psychopathic behavior, at least the kind that leads to criminal charges.
That said, we like hazing and worry that recent outrages (ask your kid about atomic sit-ups) and academic studies (ask somebody where Alfred University is) may get it legislated out of sports. We'd miss hazing, and sports would miss it, too.
Of course, our idea of hazing may be different from yours. But let's assume we can all tell the difference between good, clean fun and felonious assault. Branding is not hazing. Nor is kidnapping. The forced consumption of goldfish may or may not be hazing. ("That's a gray area," says one SI editor.) But why throw the good out with the goldfish?
We don't need a 36-page report from Alfred University (it's in Alfred, N.Y.) to tell us that "humiliating, dangerous and illegal activity" should be curbed. But what's wrong with making a freshman carry a senior's suitcase? Taping a rookie to a goalpost, as the Browns do, may be borderline, but is making him do a skit in a skirt so bad? (Answer: It all depends on the hemline.)
The whole idea of hazing, when mob psychology doesn't push it onto Court TV, is the destruction of status to foster teamwork. This works only if there's some breakdown of ego. Cade McNown may have signed for $22 million, but he still has to carry the vets' shoulder pads. And if he's a bit embarrassed, so much the better. It makes him a little more like the rest of the Bears. Athletics, which increasingly elevates the individual far above the team, needs more hazing. Whatever keeps a quarterback's feet on the ground ought to be encouraged. Maybe cross-dressing isn't the worst thing in the world ("Another gray area," says the SI editor) if it makes for more camaraderie.
Hazing doesn't make sense in high school, where freshmen have no egos and need no embarrassment beyond that of being freshmen. But we're all for college and pro hazing, or whatever you want to call it when athletes of extra-ordinary privilege are treated just like the rest of the team. No coat hangers, no bloodshed. Just a song, rook. Key of C, if you please.