The Richie Incognito case in the NFL is at the top of the sports headlines today. It is an ugly situation in which one player has harassed another teammate to the point of him leaving the team. And the harasser , Incognito, has now been suspended by the Dolphins for “conduct detrimental to the team”.
It is a story that will hold the public’s attention for many reasons; the name Incognito, the racial language in the harassing voice mails and texts, the macho bully going after the more sensitive man to toughen him up, the effects of 20 year olds making 3 million dollars a year, the violence inherent in football, and others.
What it has brought up most clearly for me is the issue of hazing. Professional athletes have traditionally undergone a hazing process during their first year in the league. They are subject to all manner of tasks, pranks and service to the older players. It is somewhat similar to the college fraternity brand of hazing.
As society has evolved, hazing has been marginalized and is now seen as a predominately “bad” thing. But there are pockets of opinion that still point to the positive attributes of hazing and would like it to remain in place, and it still lives at some fraternities, sports teams, and random other organizations.
Cornell University did a study about all the different arguments for and against hazing from the point of view of all the different subgroups and individuals involved-
To me it read like the pro’s and con’s of smoking:
Con- it kills you.
Pro- it enables you to do deep breathing exercises at regular intervals throughout the day.
And like the nicotine in cigarettes, the main ingredient that makes it hazing is humiliation.
So if you can do breathing exercises without cigarettes, Can we accomplish all the positive things that hazing does without humiliation?
In my experience, building team spirit, toughening up the team, humbling the new members, having a tradition… can all be done BETTER without humiliation.
I think we are also making a big mistake associating hazing in any way with initiation. Most men’s initiations (both the ancient and more modern versions) share three basic elements: descent, ordeal and return. They are designed to be extremely difficult, but in no way humiliating.
Initiations are also run by elders. Whereas hazing can be done by anyone who has gone through the hazing themselves, setting up the ludicrous and dangerous idea of a sophomore hazing a freshman… or an offensive lineman with a history of trouble having a main role in the hazing of teammates.