Copyright 2013 by John T. Reed
Readers may be wondering what I think about the Richie Incognito hazing incident at the Miami Dolphins NFL team.
I am not in a position to comment on that particular incident because it would require being in the locker room and on the practice field and so on.
It has been well established that Richie Incognito is an asshole and dirty player. Also, accusing the hazing target, Jonathan Martin, of being too wussy or wimpy to be an NFL football player, is, by definition, invalid. Martin was All-American at Stanford, was drafted in the second round, and is a second-year NFL football player. However, going into the nuances of the particular relationship between the two and whether Incognito misbehaved in that relationship is still beyond my ken and probably that of any other person who is not a current Dolphin.
However, I know far more than most about hazing and I want to comment generally about it.
Hazing is always and everywhere total bullshit.
I played football freshman year of high school in Harrington, DE. As far as I know, and I probably know enough, there was no hazing there. I then moved to Collingswood, NJ where I played football. There was no hazing that I was aware of there either. We had a winning season my senior year.
At Miramonte High School where my oldest son, Dan, played all four years and I coached there for two, I saw no hazing of freshmen or JV players, but varsity non-seniors were hazed. My son was willing to do the underclass jobs like bringing out the blocking pads and putting them away after practice, but he was not willing to defer to senior players with regard to giving up a parking space in the school parking lot and such. For that, he was threatened with physical assault. I called the head coach. He called the varsity team into a meeting and said there would be no more of that. My son got crap for being the impetus for that meeting. By the end of his junior year, he was the starting tailback and had been offensive player of the week his first game as a starter. Ken Dorsey, Dan’s classmate, was the quarterback of the team.
My son was recruited by Columbia, Dartmouth, and Yale in the Ivy League and played tailback for Columbia for four years. The high school seniors hazing him when he was a junior either participated in college football by watching it on TV or buying a ticket to their school’s home games when they were in college. One of the hazers in Dan’s class played for Yale.
The following year, I heard that some of Dan’s classmates, now seniors, had resumed the hazing of underclassmen. I mentioned it to the head coach. He angrily indicated he was not interested in hearing this.
I coached Granada High School freshmen football players after Miramonte. As far as I know, there was no hazing by upperclassmen of lower classes there. (The Granada players would no doubt say the head varsity coach hazed them. That was not hazing, that was torture, the Junction Boys, the Bataan Death March approach to coaching. Hazing is persons who are one or more levels higher than the hazee committing various crimes against the underling on the grounds that their greater tenure authorizes such behavior.)
Both Miramonte and Granada were championship teams at the time.
I later coached freshmen at Monte Vista High School. My youngest son played there. Freshmen there were severely hazed by upperclasses. Example: a freshman player was leaving the locker room when a senior who lost his cheek pad grabbed the freshman’s cheek pad and ripped it out of his helmet. JV and varsity players refused to let the freshman into the locker room until the last upperclass player left. This delayed the start of our practices by about 10 or 15 minutes. But it did not extend the end of our practices because a youth league started their practices on the same field at 6PM. On one occasion, a JV player hid the helmet of one of my starting receivers— kid who later started on the varsity as a junior. I complained to the JV head coach right then during practice. He called his players together and ordered them to give the kid back his helmet which they immediately did. I complained to the head varsity coach about the general problem. He said, “Shit flows downhill” and did nothing about it. We went 7-2 that year. Our JV and varsity teams did not do well that year.
So, my point is I have seen hazing and non-hazing football teams and hazing and non-hazing football players. There was no correlation between hazing and winning or playing at a higher level so the notion that it is required for success or makes teams better is a lie. It is likely that the teams would have had better players overall had no prospective players been discouraged from trying out for the team.
Hazing is, in fact, borderline psychotic behavior that borderline psychotic people like and can often get away with and justify as “paying your dues,” “I had to do when I was a _____,” making the target “tougher” and all that.
I am also a West Point graduate. We got jerked around all freshman year by upperclassmen all day every day. Furthermore, we started school on July 1, 1964, not on Labor Day weekend. And jerking the new cadets around was the main purpose of the first two months. For three of my four years at West Point, I was an upperclassman. In July 1967, I was one of the upperclassmen training the New Cadets. Plebes at West Point had to memorize the beverage preferences of the upperclassmen at their mess hall table. The nice guy upperclassmen told them “Just ask me at the meal in question.” I was one of those.
One of the new plebes we trained in July 1967 was future U.S. Senator Jack Reed—yes, the same name as me. My roommate that month at West Point later ran into Senator Reed at a lunch in DC. Reed commented in a letter to him after the lunch that he remembered him and “Mr. Reed” (me) as being “fair and decent” to the plebes. Q.E.D.
We went through the same bullshit at U.S. Army ranger school and U.S. Army jump school after West Point.
Hazing is of the bullies, by the bullies, and for the bullies. It serves no national defense or athletic or other legitimate purpose.
When my wife went to college—at age 16—she was eager to join a sorority, which she assumed was one of the things you did in college. But when she pledged, she was hazed, and promptly quit the sorority.
My wife and I and all three of our sons are feisty and refuse to compromise either our integrity or our dignity. We have five different varieties of feisty, but all feisty.
To an extent, being an Army officer is a hazing situation. I agreed to the whole package at West Point, ranger school, and jump school, so I did what was required. But I refused to go along with it in the Army. For example, I once walked into an officers club bar from outside. I knew you needed to take your hat off or else the higher ranking officers would make you buy a round of drinks, so I made sure to do that. But a fat old colonel said that I had not and demanded I pay for drinks. I said I had taken my hat off and that I was NOT buying any drinks. He ordered me to pay for the drinks. I refused and left.
They have what are called “command performance” parties in the Army officer corps. It means when a colonel or general “invites” you to a party, you must go. I refused to go to “command performance” parties—all of them. See my web article on O.V.U.M. in the Army.
In Vietnam, the battalion commander was always an hour late for supper. The unwritten rule was that we had to be there at 6PM, which is when the food was hot, then sit without eating until the colonel arrived. There was also a briefing to the same lieutenant colonel at 7:30 PM every night. So supper was always an hour wait doing nothing and cold food eaten in a rush to make the briefing on time. One night, I told the waitress, in Vietnamese so the brass would not know what I was doing, to bring me my meal at about 6:10 when it was still hot. She warned me in Vietnamese that she thought I was going to get it trouble. I told her not to worry about it. She brought my meal. I ate it while the other officers all glowered at me. Thereafter, I ate supper at a tiny officers club that only had two items on the menu: steak and fried chicken. I ate steak one night and fried chicken the next, taking a book on magazine to read while I ate. The supper in the mess hall was free. I had to pay for the O club supper out of my pocket. But I preferred the company there, i.e., no one
That battalion commander was the first to stop me from being promoted to captain. He also began making me drive to the most dangerous fire base we had again and again, apparently in the hope that I would be killed or captured. Then, when my platoon sergeant—and driver—figured out what was going on, he invoked sole surviving son and got instantly sent home. That embarrassed my battalion commander and my new sergeant came from corps headquarters—the bosses of my battalion commander. Thereafter, me would take me to the fire base again and again on his chopper but he refused to let me return in the chopper. That required me to hitchhike back to our battalion location—60 miles away. It always took me three days. As soon as I got back, he would take me back again in his daily chopper. My platoon was at battalion headquarters, not at the fire base.
Does any of this sound like hazing?
I never gave in to it.
I was given horrible efficiency reports, prevented from being promoted to captain, and thrown out of the Army for “defective attitude” (honorable discharge and severance pay).
So I have observed hazing, been hazed, refused to be hazed, and fought against hazing. I have also had to meet extremely high standards. There is nothing wrong with extremely high standards that relate to the accomplishment of the mission of the organization in question. But justifying hazing as contributing to accomplishing the mission using extremely broad analogies like “well, combat is chaotic and stressful so any stress we put on the plebes is therefore contributing to handling combat.” Bullshit! More likely it is irrelevant except that it causes good men to leave the organization in question. Better to have good men who refuse to be hazed leading in combat than lesser men and bullies who have been hazed and who have hazed.
Hazing actually hurts the organizations that allow it.
Jonathan Martin quit pro football because of it. Many people who are hazed quit West Point or their football team or whatever because of hazing. Many more excellent candidates never sign up for the organization in question to begin with because of its reputation for hazing. It is this hidden aspect of the consequences of hazing that proves that all organizations that tolerate hazing are less that they could have been and should have been.
Hazing sometimes results in death or maiming of the individual in question. It also often results in the coaching staff or others who were in charge getting fired and/or ending their careers in that field.
Abu Ghraib was probably the most famous recent example of hazing that blew up in the faces of those who allowed it.
I suspect it also results in actual fragging (murder of a military superior during a firefight or other circumstances where it is all but impossible to ascertain who committed the crime or whether a crime was even committed) or non-fatal “fragging” like sabotage of their own team because the player mainly hurt by the sabotage was the hazer and the saboteur was the victim of the hazing.
There was a very famous Zimbardo study done in 1971 that reavealed how normal seemingly decent people will often mistreat prisoners when they are put in guard positions. See http://www.apa.org/research/action/prison.aspx and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment.