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Hazing isn’t new in pro sports

November 10, 2013
By John Mehno (johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com) , The Altoona Mirror

PITTSBURGH - Richie Incognito? Are they kidding?

The villain in this bizarre story has a name right out of "The Sopranos?"

The Miami Dolphins' bullying controversy will drastically affect several careers. Incognito, accused of intimidating and harassing teammate Jonathan Martin, will probably be unemployable.

Based on the way some NFL players have closed ranks and argued, "People just don't understand..." it's hard to believe Martin will find an NFL locker room that's a comfortable fit.

Joe Philbin is unlikely to get another head coaching job once he's fired in Miami.

The intent here is not to excuse the peculiar behavior that's been described, but to point out that some players genuinely don't see a lot of this as anything terribly unusual.

They've been brought up in a locker room culture from high school. They don't understand how strange this all looks to the real world.

The rookie dinner, where the team gathers at a high-end restaurant, runs up a five-figure tab and sticks the rookies with the bill? The Penguins were doing that as of a few years ago.

In a different generation, it was hockey tradition to pin a rookie down and cut his hair, or crudely shave his body hair. The Penguins banned that a while ago, but Mario Lemieux got an involuntary haircut in his rookie season.

That isn't how the corporate world does things, but the IBM guys don't shower together at the end of the work day, either.

In football, favorable impressions aren't made by someone's wit or intelligence, but are often based on how much weight someone can lift, how much pain they can tolerate and how much beer they can drink.

A long time ago, quarterback Bobby Layne would demand Steelers rookies join him for an extended night of drinking that didn't stop until the new players were physically ill. To skip that rite of passage was to risk the scorn of teammates.

The Pirates had a tradition where veterans would sneak into the clubhouse during a game and steal the rookies' clothes. They'd substitute a weird outfit the players would have to wear on a travel day, and they'd kick the rookies off the bus before it reached the hotel. Jason Bay walked those final blocks in Chicago wearing a bright yellow chicken suit in his rookie season.

Theirs is a different world. If anything good comes out of the Dolphins story, it will be showing players just how grossly distorted that world is sometimes.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

 
 
 

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