In football, there is a line between a rite of passage and bullying

Posted Tuesday, Nov. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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engel Here is another problem with bullying — defining it.

In 2010, Dallas Cowboys rookie Dez Byrant was “asked” by his teammates to do as rookies do, which includes carrying the shoulder pads for a fellow wide receiver to practice, or bringing sunflower seeds and Gatorade to a position meeting.

Dez did not want to. When some of the veteran offensive linemen were made aware of this, and put their weight behind their opinion, Dez did it.

“He did it, but it was like pulling teeth,” said Patrick Crayton, Bryant’s former teammate, in a phone interview Monday. “Once he realized what was going on, he did it. It’s about earning your stripes.”

In our wildly oversensitive culture where we eagerly await the chance to scream about how we have been wronged, what the Cowboys vets did to Dez could be defined as bullying. The same for Aledo’s 91-0 win over Western Hills.

Then we are reminded what true bullying looks like when read stories about what is going on with the Miami Dolphins. The team has suspended guard Richie Incognito, reportedly because he took the rookie hazing thing too far with teammate Jonathan Martin.

Earning your stripes is one thing, but once the behavior crosses into hazing you have a bona fide bully and a Grade-A dummy.

What the Cowboys did to Dez was not, nor should it ever be classified, as bullying.

What Incognito did, some of which included racial slurs, physical threats and borderline extortion, is another example of why hazing is a stupid act done by stupid people.

These frat house “rites of passages” quickly have a way of devolving into bullying. Give a little power to a young man who had his feelings hurt as a kid and watch him go nuts when he can briefly ruin a kid’s life under the guise of “rites of passage.”

It is the single biggest reason why I passed on a joining a fraternity — hazing is a wasteful, hurtful series of antics designed to build bonds when, in practice, it often is a waste of time that leaves scars because not everybody can “take a joke.”

But I’m just a puny non-jock who, rather than play, simply stood on the sideline judging those who did because I couldn’t take it, or wasn’t good enough.

Tracy Simien was a linebacker at TCU in the ’80s, and played eight NFL seasons, seven with the Kansas City Chiefs. The man hit people for a living and thrived in that setting.

“I never wanted to join a frat because of some of the stuff I heard they had you do. I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” said Simien, 46, who is now head coach at Eastern Hills.

The type of hazing Simien experienced as a player at TCU and during his pro career is fairly standard and harmless. He had to sing the TCU Fight Song in front of the team when he was a rookie; brought everybody donuts one day during a week; helped pay for the linebacker’s party, so his cut was less than $1,000.

“The first-round pick may have been duct-taped to a goal post, but it was in full view of the coaches and the trainers,” he said. “If you were the first-round pick, because you had more money, you might be asked to spend a little bit more. None of it was ever ridiculous. The places I was would never allow it. Nothing was ever degrading.”

The second it becomes degrading for the recipient a line has been crossed, and real damage can be done. Damage that can be passed down.

The problem is we have our feelings hurt too easily these days, so we use the same word to describe what happened to Martin and Dez.

Spare me the talk that hazing “toughens” kids up, or that legislating against hazing or bullying does nothing but soften an already overly soft culture. It’s called respect, self-worth and degradation.

What the Cowboys asked of Dez may not have been the most constructive use of time, but it was not degrading.

“The vets are respecting you and you are respecting the vets. You are earning your stripes to be one with the team,” Crayton said. “It’s nothing personal unless they refuse to do it, and that’s when you have an issue.”

When Dez said no, veteran linemen Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo stepped in simply by standing up and saying, “Eight-eight?” Was this bullying? Davis was 6-foot-6, 355 pounds. Colombo was 6-foot-8, 315 pounds. Dez is 6-foot-2, 235 pounds. Call it implied intimidation.

The difference is, when these two guys stood up with Dez, they didn’t go stupid the way Incognito did. Chances are good had Dez dug in nothing would have happened, other than guys would not have been happy that a rook had the big head. Dez thought better of it and played along.

Incognito is a dope who went on a little power trip; now he looks like a boorish fool because bullying, or hazing, is just being stupid and mean for the sake of being mean.

The irony is that “ incognito” means to conceal one’s true identity. This case of bullying should mean that Incognito is now a synonym for stupid.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof

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