Category Archives: hazing

Locker room banter, hazing and respectful reactions

Let’s think about the weekend’s massive protest marches in terms of physics. For every action, according to Newton’s third law, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

It just might take a while. So a presidential candidate was exposed for his vulgar bragging about sexual assault in an October revelation and, about three months later—after scores of more indignities, and after the serial aggressor has become president and sworn to reverse “American carnage”—demonstrations organized by women turned up in at least 500 U.S. cities with 3.7 million participants. That’s one of every 100 Americans (my wife among them).

The marchers, including men and children as well as women, voiced a variety of agendas and fears, but it might be safe to say that all were responding to the new executive’s repeated aversion to “political correctness.” Which is, after all, simply a commitment to showing respect to all individuals and groups.

I come from a mostly male-dominated world, having worked as a sports journalist for roughly a half century. In that environment, especially regarding team sports, there certainly is a history of boys’ club exclusion and assumed dominance. But the difference between that, and our president’s argument that his molestation of women was “just locker room banter,” is that we have arrived at 2017 with a gradual expectation of chivalrous conduct.

A case in point would be the long, long overdue new Major League Baseball prohibition, announced in December, targeting the practice of veteran players forcing rookie teammates to dress as women in annual end-of-the-season hazing rituals.

That, too, took a while. It has been 11 years since Long Island’s Adelphi University invited hundreds of coaches and school administrators to a five-hour conference on hazing. My Newsday editor, in fact, still considered it to be a cute thing the following year when he assigned me to chronicle that “time-honored tradition” as the Yankees required rookies to dress as Wizard of Oz characters, including Dorothy, the Wicked Witch and other females.

Sports psychologist Susan Lipkins, an expert on the dangers of hazing, noted that by compelling men to dress as women, it sent the message that to be a woman is less than to be a man, thereby denigrating both the male dressing as a woman and women in general.

Anyway, in October—about the time that Hollywood Access audio tape surfaced of our future leader’s crass (and, in fact, criminal) claims—the New York Mets’ veterans ordered rookie teammates to don wigs, dresses and fake breasts as characters from the movie “A League of Their Own.” And to publicly fetch coffee in that attire for the old pros.

Maybe it took the outrage expressed by a handful of female sportswriters to finally move baseball officials to assume the role of adults and put an end to such bad behavior, after more than 30 years of rookies being ordered to wear tutus, cheerleader costumes or the outfits of female superheroes during the team’s final road trip.

“Before the ‘lighten up, it’s just a joke’ crowd has the chance to chime in,” Julie DiCaro wrote on the CBS Chicago web site at the time, “think about this: What if the rookies were all dressed in blackface as a joke? What if they were all dressed like Negro League players? Is that OK? “

That prompted SUNY-Oswego professor Brian Moritz, on his web site, to question the “The Casual Sexism of the NY Mets.” Although, he admitted, a little late.

Some players continued to rationalize it as a harmless fraternal initiation. As “team-bonding.” As “fun.” (Something like “locker room banter” to them, no doubt, not to be nixed by “political correctness.”)

But any expert on hazing will argue that it is fun at someone else’s expense, that it is a means of reinforcing a pecking order of power and status. One of those experts, Roger Rees, told me years ago that hazing “legitimizes anti-social behavior” when sports, ideally, is supposed to “teach self-respect and respect for others.” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, a former Marine aware of similar practices in the military, was among those who strongly backed the MLB ruling to end what he call something “divisive [that] undercuts morale.”

Divisive and undercutting morale? Hmmm. Forward…march.