Sports Editor Dustin Brown and Fashion Editor Money Jensen will be looking at the ugly side of sports in a four-part series titled “Sports: A Disastrous Reality.” Part two explores the issue of hazing and bullying at all levels of sports, and how it is a problem that tends to be taken lightly. All views expressed in this series are those of the author and not that of Salute Magazine and its other writers.
“Congratulations rookie, you made it on the team,” the star player says authoritatively. “In order to be a part of this squad, there are a couple of things that you have to do first.” The rookie looks around and begins to shuffle their feet awkwardly.
“Have you ever heard of an atomic sit-up or a birthday wedgie?”
“No, and I don’t think I want to find out either,” the new player stumbles on words as they come out of his or her mouth.
“Well, you don’t have a choice,” the star fires back.
If you have ever been a part of a conversation such as the one above, you likely played sports in high school, college or even at the professional level. Hazing is something that has occurred for years and has been laughed off as a part of sports and joining a team. It is rationalized as a rite of passage to be a member of a team, and fans see pictures of rookies dressed in drag or some other humiliating outfit that puts all public eyes on that new player.
Hazing isn’t only a sports issue, but that will be the focus here, as it is something that has gone on for far too long in sports. It can also be directly associated with bullying, but that also faces some criticism from people that think it is part of being on a team.
If you ask anyone that has played sports, they were likely involved in hazing in one form or another, but punishment doesn’t always find its way to the offender. Many cases of hazing are laughed at as part of the process in sports, but I can personally attest to some of the awful things that occur in the locker room or on the field. Sometimes the coaches knew and sometimes they didn’t, but one thing was certain — you did not discuss what went on. Fear is a big part of the hazing process, much like other forms of abuse that occur in dark rooms or out of the public’s eye.
Florida A&M University
One of the bigger cases at the collegiate level is what occurred at Florida A&M University in November 2011. Robert Champion was a drum major at the university and a part of the “Marching 100,” which is what the well-known band’s nickname is. Champion died after being hazed by other band members in an event called “crossing over.” The event occurs on a dark bus with a single member attempting to go through a violent gauntlet of other band members who use hands, feet, straps and other items to prevent the solo member from getting to the back of the bus, according to ABC News.
An excerpt of the May 24, 2012, article on abcnews.com had a description of another member who went through the hazing right before Champion did.
Keon Hollis went with Champion to the bus for the “crossing over.” He told police that [he] took a shot of alcohol before heading for the bus.
“It was really dark on the bus,” he told detectives. “I couldn’t really make out faces, but I know it was a lot of people.”
When asked to explain the process, Hollis said, “Basically, get on the bus and you have to take your shirt off and you basically have to make it from the front of the bus to the back of the bus.” Hollis told the detective that the goal is to “just get through it as quick as you can.”
“They was using hands, straps, think [I] saw a comb,” later described as a large plastic orange comb, he said. Hollis said they used drum sticks and kicks as well.
At the end of the ordeal, Hollis walked back to the front of the bus, through applause and “hooting and hollering” from his band mates. When he got outside the bus, he threw up.
Champion wasn’t lucky enough to stay alive and only vomit, and he died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
“The word hazing is not what was actually done,” Champion’s mother Pam Champion said at a news conference Wednesday. She has maintained that her son was murdered and that he was not a violent person.
“My son would never sign up for this,” she said. “Nobody in their right mind would sign up for this,” via ABC News.
In all, over a dozen band members were charged, including former drum major Jarrod Deas. The school also suspended FAMU’s marching band, and longtime band director Dr. Julian White and FAMU president James Ammons abruptly retired as a result of the hazing death and investigation, according to Stephen Hudak of The Orlando Sentinel.
Richie Incognito and Miami Dolphins
One of the biggest hazing scandals in the NFL occurred in the Miami Dolphins locker room, and it was so bad that the NFL hired Ted Wells to investigate the incident. The bullying and hazing event involved Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, who bullied offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, an assistant trainer and another offensive lineman, according to The Washington Post.
The findings of the Wells report, as reported by The Washington Post, says:
“Three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman, whom we refer to as Player A for confidentiality reasons, and a member of the training staff, whom we refer to as the Assistant Trainer. We find that the Assistant Trainer repeatedly was targeted racial slurs and other racially derogatory language. Player A frequently was subjected to homophobic name calling and improper physical touching. Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at time ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.
“The Report rejects any suggestion that Martin manufactured claims of abuse after the fact to cover up an impetuous decision to leave the team. Contemporaneous text messages that Martin sent to his parents and others months before he left the Dolphins which have never before been made public corroborate his account that the persistent harassment by his teammates caused him significant emotional distress. The Report concludes that the harassment by Martin’s teammates was a contributing factor in his decision to leave the team, but also finds that Martin’s teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.”
Martin ended up leaving the Dolphins in October (prior to the Wells’ investigation) and eventually signed with the San Francisco 49ers prior to the 2014 season.
Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins for three months and was reinstated by the team after the Super Bowl in 2014. He did not take the field again until he signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills in February 2015.
These two incidents are only a couple of the many hazing and bullying incidents in sports leagues around the country, but they shine a dim light on an issue that needs to be dealt with; like the issue of domestic violence recently. Professional leagues and the NCAA — high school associations also — need to start taking a stronger approach to the many issues that have been pushed aside and laughed off for far too long.
USA TODAY reports that a 2009 University of Maine study of over 11,000 athletes at 53 colleges and universities “found that more than half of students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experienced hazing. Alcohol, sexual abuse and humiliation often are in the mix.”
That same USA TODAY article says that at least one college student has died nationwide each year since 1970. Are we willing to accept this as a social norm or right of passage anymore, or will we finally decide — like other issues — that even one death at one level of society is not acceptable?
Hazing and bullying might not be something that happens to everyone that plays a sport, but it sure as hell has no place among the thousands of fields and locker rooms in this country. And it is a problem that continues to exist even though many states have anti-bullying laws in place. It all starts and stops with each person saying enough is enough.