In the wake of the ongoing scandal surrounding the Miami Dolphins and the NFL at large, players and executives in other sports leagues have begun speaking out against locker-room bullying and rookie hazing as outmoded and barbaric. NBA veterans LeBron James and Amir Johnson recently decried using extreme measures under the guise of "team-building." The league office reminded all 30 teams of its explicit anti-hazing policy. The Minnesota Timberwolves even went so far as to end the practice of giving rookies children's backpacks, like the one Chris Copeland was given by the New York Knicks' vets last year, to carry with them as a freshman burden.
The latest NBA voice to speak on the matter belongs to Washington Wizards owner and gracious pixel-generator Ted Leonsis, who decried hazing in an interview with The Associated Press:
"I have very, very strong opinions, both personally but also what I've learned professionally, and I think you've seen that redolent in what we've done now with the Wizards," Leonsis said. "Character really, really matters."
"Character" has been a watchword throughout Leonsis' ownership, which has seen the Wizards move from an immaturity-dominated era marked by on-court lapses (most of them JaVale-based), off-court nonsense ("The Cinnamon Challenge", "Lapdance Tuesday"), ridiculous locker-room pranks (Gilbert Arenas putting poop in the shoes of Andray Blatche) and seriously terrifying no-jokes-at-all gunplay (the card-game-sparked standoff that saw both Arenas and Javaris Crittenton brandish firearms, leading to their suspension for the remainder of the 2009-10 NBA season) to a more professional regime.
It's one thing to to be terrible — and the Wizards were that, going 88-224 between the start of the 2007-08 season and the end of 2011-12 — but it's quite another to be a laughing-stock public embarrassment in whose locker room felonies happen. So Leonsis and general manager Ernie Grunfeld set about ripping out the rotted plumbing of the Wizards' core and refurbishing the organization, finding trade partners for Arenas, McGee and Young, amnestying Blatche (who's still acting as a drain on the Wizards), bringing in grown-ups like Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, and handing the team's reins over to John Wall and backcourt partner Bradley Beal.
The overhaul still has yet to result in very many wins — thanks to a variety of injuries and some ill-fitting pieces, the Wiz went 29-53 last year and have opened this season 2-5 — but it's given the Wizards a more stable and positive culture, according to Leonsis:
"Today the Wizards as a team are filled with very, very high-caliber people and veterans who welcome rookies because they know it's an integral part of our strategy," Leonsis said. "There is code around rookies and rookie hazing, but it usually goes to 'You're going to buy somebody a dinner,' or 'You're going to be the one who drives the vet to the airport.'
"Culturally I don't think present-day that kind of hazing (that happened in Miami) could happen in the Capitals or the Mystics or the Wizards locker room. And I think that it's incumbent upon owners and coaches and general managers to create an environment to bring players in to know what's expected of them and what's unacceptable behavior."
"COMPANY'S OWNER OPPOSES EMPLOYEES DOING THINGS THAT ARE FIREABLE OFFENSES IN ALL OTHER WALKS OF LIFE" isn't a particularly hot sports take, but still, it's always nice to hear one more powerful voice — Leonsis serves on the NBA's Board of Governors and the NHL's executive committee — decry hazing and the individuals who do it as detrimental to the cause of building a strong, winning organization. Whether it actually translates on the court for the Wizards remains to be seen, but there can never be too many decision-makers promoting positive treatment as an actual team-building strategy, especially if doing so could help prevent the development of future violent, destructive work environments.
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