Time for rookie hazing to end

It took one practice for Dez Bryant(notes), supposedly too immature to play in the NFL, to reveal the childishness of a tradition that long lost its relevance.

Somehow, through the fog of old football players warbling their embellished yarns about days long forgotten and contrived vignettes on "Hard Knocks," a notion has formed that rookie football players need to be treated like laboratory test animals to gain respect. This includes such time-honored traditions as charging exorbitant meal sums on the rookie's credit card, duct-taping him to a goalpost or turning him into a football Friday.

Team bonding they say.

It was in this spirit of camaraderie that Dallas Cowboys receiver Roy Williams – he of just 57 catches so far in his time with the team – ordered Bryant to carry his shoulder pads off the field after Sunday's training camp workout.

Thank goodness Bryant refused because this needs to stop.

"I'm trying to win a championship, not carry players' pads," Bryant later told reporters on the side of the field.

When pressed on the issue Bryant added: "it's not about playing games, it's about doing the right thing and try to achieve our goal."

This, of course, has brought Bryant considerable scorn by those who have decided that his refusal to humiliate himself is irresponsible and will tear apart the Cowboys locker room.

"Picking up some bills, having a few pranks pulled on u n doing some odd jobs for the vets is a small price to pay to gain respect," Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers wrote on Twitter.

As if there's dignity in being tied to a goalpost.

Maybe in the days long ago when players went by names like "Bronco" and played together on the same team for years, worked second jobs in the winter and spring, and then drank as one in the local watering holes, hazing had its place. But back then the idea of team was an eternal one. The same group lasted for several seasons – banging heads in the afternoon, then clinking mugs in the evening. There was no free agency. Like it or not, they were together for years and it was essential to build that unity.

But today's players are independent contractors, subject to the whims of the salary cap and a coach's need at the moment. Players whip in and out of locker rooms so fast many of them barely get to know the man on the next stool before his jersey is gone and a new teammate is pulling cleats from a bag.

Teams are made on the fly, thrown together in meeting rooms and sealed on a few scrimmages on the practice field – not by making rookies act like personal valets.

And yet football persists as if training camp is the Sigma Chi house.

Last summer, not long after head of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith begged his constituents to start saving 25 percent of their money in preparation for a potential looming lockout, the San Diego Chargers treated themselves to a $14,508.67 dinner at the expense of first-round pick Larry English(notes). If English was upset about this development, his teammate Shawne Merriman(notes) offered comfort by claiming to have picked up a $32,000 tab run up by fellow Chargers in his rookie season.

The Chargers, properly bonded as a team by English's generosity, lost three of their first five games.

Twelve years ago, in a hazing ritual that still defies explanation, several New Orleans Saints players forced rookies to put pillowcases over their heads and run a gantlet of trusted older teammates who smacked them with bags of coins. One player wound up with blurred vision; another had a broken nose.

"My worst street fight when I was a little kid wasn't this bad," Jeff Danish, one of the injured players, told the New York Times.

Williams signs autographs – and holds his own pads Monday.
(Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)

Of course that Saints team went 6-10.

At some point you would think athletes would understand the emptiness of their hazing. In recent years baseball players seem to have taken great joy in forcing their rookie teammates to walk through airports in the most ridiculous of costumes as if dressing each other in Hooters-girl outfits seals a male bond and builds a team.

Mostly what happens is a bunch of players who won't be on the team in a few weeks humiliate a bunch of players who won't be on the team in a few weeks. And that makes a team?

Funny how it took Dez Bryant, known in college for his tardiness and general lack of preparedness for adulthood, to show the Cowboys how childish they have been.

"It's not about playing games."

Maybe the Cowboys, January's losers too many times these last few years, will finally learn that.