Think about what it takes to become an NFL draft pick. A young man must be a standout player in high school to make the team at a college or university with a nationally recognized football program. The same young man must play at a high level at his college or university, establish a reputation as a man of character, and avoid a career-ending injury. Talent, discipline, perseverance, hard work and luck are just a few of the necessary ingredients for success.
After college, the young man goes through the rigors of training for the scouting combine and an extensive vetting process by NFL teams. The next excruciating step is the NFL draft, where the dreams and expectations of deserving, hardworking young men are regularly shredded like paper documents by the blades of NFL football reality.
Finally, consider that only first and second round draft picks receive guaranteed contracts and a spot on the fifty-three man NFL team roster. The other draftees, taken in the third through seventh rounds, must compete with established players possessing competitive instincts and talent honed to such a high level that they are nothing less than freaks of nature.
All of the foregoing begs the question that has nagged me since the Ritchie Incognito and Jonathan Martin story broke in the news: Why must men who have endured so much be subjected to rookie hazing? What do rookie NFL players, who have overcome staggering odds and every kind of adversity, have left to prove in terms of their talent and manhood?
The answer is nothing.
Why does rookie hazing exist? It seems to me, in this enlightened age, there is no place for this practice. To call rookie hazing a rite of passage is an unfortunate misnomer. Rookie NFL players pass through a demanding gauntlet so severe that only a tiny percentage of their peers pass the test.
Rookie hazing exists for the purpose of entertaining veteran players, pure and simple. It is a perk for older players who have survived, for however short or long, in the NFL. The problem with this is that it comes at the expense of young men who have already paid a very high price to ascend to the perilous and exalted status of NFL team player. It is grossly unfair to demean these men with the immature and sometimes cruel practices that come under the heading of rookie hazing.
NFL players justify the practice as “good fun” and even “therapy” that helps to defuse tension in training camp. I’m sure the players doing the hazing are having fun, but what about the rookies? They might be smiling, but it’s only because they have to. And, there is the ever lurking danger that this good fun and therapy will cross the line into harmful and damaging behavior.
Does hazing help the rookies and older players bond? I doubt it. I can’t see how hazing can effectively build team chemistry. It can certainly build counter-productive resentment in the rookie players.
I am reminded of the Miami Heat basketball team, where veteran players regularly mentor and encourage younger players to build their skills, work habits, and character. This is a product of team culture. It is something we should see much more of in the NFL.
I say rookie hazing should be banned by the NFL, or anywhere it exists. In professional sports, the penalties should be fines and suspensions.
David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting his day job, he spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing.