THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
In the event you didn't know, this week is National Hazing Prevention Week. However, what you might have known was that professional baseball teams take this time of year to haze.
With the pictures beginning to circulate social media of professional athletes being forced to dress up in some sort of ridiculous outfit in order to "initiate" them to the big leagues, I thought this would be the time to discuss just how ridiculous these stunts are, how detrimental they can be to all humans, and discuss some of the offshoots of hazing that are equally dangerous.
According to HazingPrevention.org (which is a fantastic resource), hazing is defined as "any action taken or any situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate." Most people who haze, when asked why they do it, usually don't have an answer with any substance. They give the same old song and dance: "We all had to do it to be part of this group." "It's just tradition." "The recruits have to prove their worth!"
However, anyone with an I.Q. in double digits could easily realize that those answers don't mean much. Hazing is usually about some sort of power or control. It may be power and control over another person (especially if that person is new or younger). Or, more interestingly, it could be power and control over the inner psyche of the person doing the hazing, as if it were a way to suppress insecurities or pain. There really are a myriad of explanations as to why people haze because of the unique experiences we all have and the emotions they imprint on each person. We can only hope to summarize them as best we can in the hope that this allows us to identify hazing, end it, prevent it, etc.
It's tough to tell where hazing originated. I'm sure it's possible that the Apostles hazed new recruits...it's possible, however unlikely. But where it is now is widespread. Most frequently, it is found among kids as young as middle school; it is most prevalent among high school and college students; and adults who belong to certain groups usually populated by kids (or populated by adults who have the mind of children) continue the tradition (hence the sports teams).
As wrong as hazing is, one might almost expect such immature behavior from children. After all, they're kids; they probably don't know any better. Again, I cannot express how wrong it is, nor do I endorse it at any level, but for the purposes of responsibility felt by others, younger people probably do not have the experience or common sense to be able to step back and understand their mistakes. That's why it is so surprising that hazing continues to exist as the participants get older.
Prior to reaching a true adulthood (which is probably closer to the age of 30 than it is 18), it's really up to the elder statesmen to police the younger generation and prevent hazing from occurring. Many states have passed laws regarding hazing that apply to students of middle school, high school, and college that require that the adult supervisors of groups that could contain hazing must police it and stop it at all costs. Usually, if any problems exist as a result of this, it's one of two very common ones. First, there is a huge debate coming from the adults because of the paradox of whether or not to help. In groups such as sports teams at these ages, hazing tends to occur typically in a locker room. So if an adult coach goes in to monitor his team with the intent of preventing or stopping hazing, there could be that one odd parent that then accuses the coach of being a pedophile. Second, as the age of the participants get older (such as college aged athletes), the chances that the supervising adults relate more to the younger ones as peers or equals rather than members of the coach/player or teacher/student relationship increase. That relation can sometimes lead to the a desire for the authority figure to relive younger days and bond with the younger ones in a manner that discards any respect for the prevention of hazing or similar activities.
Ultimately, every justification given as to why hazing is endorsed is frankly false. It does not build camaraderie or create bonds among people. The psychological damage done to victims of hazing can be so deep and dormant that it can surface at the worst possible time and create complex issues that only therapists could understand. Victims of hazing frequently develop poor habits that can include the abuse of drugs or alcohol, the abuse of other people, destructive tendencies in relationships, illogical fears, and plenty of other things that you wouldn't wish on your loved ones.
Organizations such as HazingPrevention.org cover the topics of hazing much more in depth and do justice to it better that I could. But there are a few specific topics that need to be discussed here.
First, why do professional athletes feel the need to continue the practice of hazing? Could it be a matter of subconsciously living loosely due to the absurd amounts of money they make in providing entertainment to fans? Is it a refusal to grow up and remain youthful as long as possible so as to not face the reality of the passage of time and our ever present mortality? Or is just arrogance, plain and simple? Whatever it is, one of the worst parts about allowing them to continue to haze is that it gives off the impression to the younger generations that hazing is acceptable, when it is clearly not. And unfortunately, some of the more recent practices of hazing among youth are far more dangerous than the practices used by professional athletes. I'm not endorsing any of it, but making players dress up in a goofy outfit, as wrong as it is, is not on the same scale of rape and sodomy.
Our youth are very impressionable, even into the years where they are, by our standards, considered legal adults. And in this age of technology where we have access to everybody at all times thanks to social media and other outlets, the impressionable youth have a greater chance of finding out about the behavior of their role models, whether positive or negative. The real hypocrisy, however, is the fact that celebrities and professional athletes will get behind plenty of charitable causes when their movement becomes strong enough, yet the prevention of hazing is almost an affront to the sacred mystery of the team clubhouse. The prevention of domestic violence is all the rage these days, so how is the prevention of hazing that far removed?
Second, hazing just doesn't occur behind closed doors. The celebrations that occur in sports when victory is achieved in an improbable manner are equally guilty of being categorized as hazing. In simpler terms, dumping a cooler of Gatorade on the guy who just hit the home run to win the game is clearly hazing. There's one difference, however: these practices of hazing can actually cause severe physical damage that can sideline professional athletes due to injury occurred outside the field of play.
The Baltimore Orioles were the first team to actually recognize this. In the recent past, when the Orioles would achieve a walk-off win, center fielder Adam Jones would usually come running out, find the hero as he was being interviewed for television or radio, and hit him with a pie. The Orioles quickly realized that the chances of someone trying to avoid the pie and subsequently pulling a muscle or getting injured in another way was too high for the practice to continue. As these players are assets and investments, the front office doesn't want to risk their investment over a stupid injury like this. Should the player get hurt during a game, that's a risk the team is willing to take in return for winning games. But imagine if your star first baseman, responsible for hitting 60 home runs each year while making a cool $30,000,000, suffers a grade four oblique strain trying to avoid a pie from Adam Jones. The chances of your team winning 90 games and making the playoffs just decreased so significantly that it is now going to be hard to justify to the season ticket holders why they're paying so much money to come see the games.
The point here is that our adults and our role models need to do a better job of setting the example for our youth. This is a sentiment that goes without saying for a multitude of subjects, so we're not breaking any new ground with this. Another similar point that needs to be reinforced is to follow the golden rule: treat others as you would wish to be treated. If you would not want to be the victim of hazing, why would you participate in hazing someone else?
Finally, it's time for Major League Baseball to step in and outlaw hazing. If laws are going to be written to deter negative behavior so as to not reinforce it to the youth, hazing certainly deserves attention.
Hey, it's tough to change the world, and it's tough to tell people to just stop this. If someone actually wants to be hazed, it's hard to stop that person. But a good benchmark is to make sure that you don't have to be part of it if you don't want to. If those boundaries were respected more often, we would have our first major victory in the elimination of hazing altogether.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.