I was watching CBS this morning before the football games started and caught a bit of the pre-game show. At the end of the program there was a brief round-table discussion of the Richie Incognito NFL hazing incident. Several players who had been in the league for many years, including a current player, London Fletcher, shared their thoughts.
All of the panel were trying to distance themselves far from Incognito's behavior, saying how that would never be okay in the locker rooms where they played and that he was in no way reflective of the 'culture of the NFL.' What struck me was how much their discussion, especially the comments made by Fletcher reminded me of something completely different from my past. Being in a sorority.
The Greek system has a long sordid history of hazing practices. Anyone who's seen Animal House can tell you all about being beaten by paddles and having to answer to the older members' every call. As a sorority girl myself I remember hearing stories of new members in other chapters being lined up in bathing suits or underwear and then ridiculed by the older members based on their body flaws. Fraternity guys regaled their stories of how their survived "Hell Week"- a sleep and food deprived time of having to do whatever physical task the your brothers demanded of you.
While London Fletcher was quick to deride Richie Incognito's behavior, particularly the use of racial slurs, he then described some things that honestly made me start yelling at my tv. He began saying how he would make rookie's bring him breakfast sandwiches and carry all of his gear around. He described how these things were okay in his book because he had to do it when he was a rookie. To him, it was all about how you 'break someone down to build them up again.'
To borrow from the sports television lexicon....C'mon man!
Seriously? While Fletcher's description of things certainly does not seem as extreme as what's been all over the sports pages the past week, simply put, he is describing hazing.
HazingPrevention.org defines hazing as 'any action taken or situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule, risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of an group or team whether new or not regardless of the person's willingness to participate.'
Also, it describes the difference between hazing and bullying as very subtle. 'Bullying is about exclusion, hazing inclusion.' Makes you think.
I was lucky enough to have never experienced hazing myself when I joined a sorority, but I remember hearing others talk about hazing incidents throughout college, with sentiments that echo Fletcher's remarks. People honestly think it's okay to do it to someone else because they had it done to them and in the end it makes them 'stronger.'
I'm throwing down a red flag on this one. I challenge that mentality. This is not 'boys being boys.' Because when you disrespect any member of an organization, team, etc. by making them feel like they have to prove themselves by doing things completely unrelated to their role in that organization, no matter how harmless you think these things are, you create a culture where people like Richie Incognito feel it's okay to take it that next step. Hazing can end up in death. Just ask the family of Scott Kruger.
In recent years, many Greek organizations have taken steps to eliminate hazing from their members' experience. Many, in conjunction with universities have a zero-tolerance policy for hazing. For example, Sigma Kappa Sorority (of which I'm a proud alum), developed the RESPEKT program, aimed at creating a culture that promotes sisterhood through supporting each other and not demanding that one proves themselves through anything other than being your best self. Chapters have been disciplined and even shut down because of hazing, but I'm sure there's more work to be done.
The NFL obviously does not have a zero-tolerance policy on hazing if their members talk freely about it on national television. While Richie Incognito should take full responsibility for his actions, the NFL needs to take a long, hard look at itself and see what needs to be done to prevent future incognito nonsense.
Check out the great blog Portrait of an Adoption for more resources related to bullying.
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