You’re 18 years old and have signed an entry level contract. You’re hot s***. But you’re a rookie, and the rest of the team won’t let you forget that. Sports are notorious for their pranks, initiations, and hazing rituals. Kirby and Wintrup (2002) ask whether initiations can ever really be harmless and do they still belong in sport?
Some athletes have tried to distance themselves from the ‘laddish‘ practices found in sport but it can be hard to voice your disapproval to the rest of the team. I personally think there’s a different culture between university and professional sports initiations; Chelsea FC has new players stand on a chair and sing a song to the team whereas I’ve heard stories from people joining sports teams at university where their heads are shaved, they have to strip naked, down a bottle of wine and run sprints et cetera. It seems to be how much abuse can we get away with under this umbrella of an initiation?
These brutal initiations send the message that we are in charge – if you don’t like this then you don’t get to be on the team, and players would be reluctant to speak out to their teammates in defence of the rookies. You support your team mates, not some newbies. Some may even be in the mindset of “well I had to do that, so why shouldn’t they?” that reinforces the cycle. (However, when Joe Sakic had his head shaved, he said he would never do that to a team mate). It serves a purpose of keeping those rookies in line – veterans have their lockers, seats on the coach, they get their food first, rookies must collect the equipment. Likewise, it enforces this toxic masculinity. A rookie can’t speak out and say “I don’t want to do this, I don’t like it, it makes me uncomfortable” because that’s not what you do, you suck it up, be a man and do it.
Some aren’t particularly harrowing. Classic hockey ones including the rookie leading the team on the ice, but the rest of the team doesn’t follow and instead chuckles away whilst they take a solo lap. Cam Fowler chauffeured Getzlaf and Selanne to home games, Despres clothes were hung from the rafters, and Lovejoy and Letestu had their furniture rearranged in their hotel room. These a way of welcoming the rookies into the team, you’re one of us now, kid. And it doesn’t stop there, in the NHL there are famous pranksters on teams (Marc-Andre Fleury, Patrick Sharp to name a couple).
Things have improved over the years, at least, but where is the line between hazing and a harmless prank?