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Do Rookies In Professional Sports Really Need To Be Hazed?

Submitted by on July 27, 2010 – 9:33 am5 Comments

Dez Bryant has already made plenty of noise in the NFL—and he hasn’t even played a single down yet.

In October 2009, he essentially became the first college football player to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft when he was ruled ineligible for the remainder of his junior season at Oklahoma State University after lying to the NCAA about his interactions with a pro agent. In April, that ruling as well as questions about his character caused him to drop all the way down to the second half of the first round of the NFL Draft, making him a steal of a pick for the Dallas Cowboys. And shortly after the draft ended, Miami GM Jeff Ireland was accused of asking Bryant whether or not his mother was once employed as a prostitute.

So, yeah, it’s safe to say Dez Bryant is already familiar with the way the news cycle works when it comes to pro sports. Which is why it’s a little surprising to hear that he’s back in the news for one of the silliest reasons in the world: With Cowboys training camp underway, Bryant has refused to carry fellow wide receiver Roy Williams‘s pads after practice—a tried-and-true hazing tradition for rookies just entering the NFL.

It raises a few interesting questions: With all of the pampered athletes getting elevated into the pro ranks these days, is hazing something that’s still important in the NFL and other pro sports? Should rookies still have to bow down to veterans when, in the case of Bryant and Williams, the rookie might be the one who’s actually getting more playing time next season? And has hazing lost its value if some guys are subjected to it, while so-called “superstars” are allowed to work their way around it? The questions are plentiful, but the answer is simple: Any rookie in sports—or in any walk of life, for that matter—should be subjected to hazing.

We’re not talking gang initiations and frat binges here, people. No one is getting hurt. No one is putting themselves or others in danger. No one is going to die due to rookie hazing. Quite the contrary. Hazing at a professional level can do a number of things for a rookie athlete:

*Rookie hazing shows young athletes they’re nothing without the team that surrounds them. Your teammate doesn’t really need help carrying a set of shoulder pads, Dez. But he does need to know if he needed you to help, you’d be there.

*Rookie hazing builds leadership skills. Five years from now, the next Dez Bryant is gonna look to the current Dez Bryant to show him how to handle himself on and off the field. Except, if the current Dez Bryant doesn’t go through with hazing. Then, all bets are off and the future Dez Bryant just gets to do what he wants to do. Being a leader begins with being a follower—and that’s something the current Dez Bryant needs to realize before it’s too late.

*Rookie hazing tears someone down and then builds them back up. I’ve never done it at the pro level, but hazing happens in any line of work. You buy coffee for the associate editor when you’re an intern at a magazine. You buy coffee for the senior editor when you become associate editor. And you buy coffee for the Editor-in-Chief when you become senior editor. (Not literally buy them coffee, but you get the point…) That’s what hazing is all about—showing your teammates (or your co-workers) what you’re all about and what you bring to the team.

Listen, there’s probably a good argument to be made about Dez Bryant’s behavior and what it says about his passion for the game of football. There’s probably someone out there who will write about how great it is to hear a rookie speak up for himself for once. And they’ve got a point, too. It’s good to be so competitive that you challenge your teammates in everything—on and off the field.

All I’m saying is there’s a reason a guy like Terrell Owens is the way he is. There’s a reason Chad Ochocinco is the way he is, too. And there will be a reason Dez Bryant is either labeled a team leader—or a cocky know-it-all—one day.

Hazing rookies in pro sports may not seem like such a big deal. But for a guy like Bryant, who has already made plenty of noise in the NFL without playing a single down, a little hazing might be exactly what he needs to become a better player, a better teammate and a better person. So somebody please make him pick up those shoulder pads. It’s for his own good.

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