By: Hector Zurita-Cruz
Giannis Antetokounmpo took great joy in filming Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown open the doors to his Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon only to find the inside of his car filled with popcorn. As he opened the doors, Brown’s feet were flooded by popcorn all while Antetokounmpo reminded the rookie, this is what you get when you forget to put towels on his (Antetokounmpo) seat on game day. As he began to empty the popcorn, Brown told his teammates “ya’ll could at least help,” but the other three weren’t having it, they continued to record him and ate the popcorn flowing out of the car. Brown’s response, “I can’t wait until my rookies come in,” as he ate the popcorn too.
Hazing. A rite of passage you aren’t comfortable with until you get to mess with the new guy for literally breathing. It is responsible for bringing us some of the most iconic haircuts in professional sports history. From, Tim Tebow’s legendary friar tuck (Yes, there are pictures), to De’Angelo Henderson getting the George Jefferson (Again, here you go). Despite the laughter it brings, professional athletes have either forgotten or are unaware of the laws that make hazing illegal.
Currently, forty-four out of fifty states have anti-hazing laws. In definition, hazing is any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate. With professional athletes, hazing has involved traditions that originally began as harmless, but profusely worsened as time went on. NFL tight end Jeremy Shockey remembers his hazing experience back in 2002 by stating, “When I was a rookie, I had to buy donuts every morning from Krispy Kreme. Every Saturday and every Friday, I bought coffee.” Now in 2018, that tradition has perhaps escalated into the notorious rookie dinner, whereby veteran teammates treat themselves to an exorbitantly expensive team dinner and stick the rookies with the bill to welcome them into the bonds. In the past, notable dinners have included the Dallas Cowboys offense sticking Dez Bryant with a $54,895 bill after he refused to carry a veteran’s shoulder pads, the Philadelphia Eagles teaching Evan Mathis ‘a lesson’ with a $64,055 tab, and who can forget the Cleveland Browns veterans treating themselves to a $37,361 rookie dinner after a perfect 0-16 season.
Yes, a good time is had by everyone, but the rookies. But what appears to start out as a practical joke or seemingly harmless prank can ultimately lead to the destruction of a professional athlete’s career. In wake of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin fiasco, Martin, an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, decided to hang up his cleats for good after he was allegedly subjected to “a pattern of harassment” that included racial slurs and sexual taunts about his mother and sister by fellow teammates. Martin admitted difficulties with the profession ultimately led him to attempt suicide on multiple occasions.
Despite picture evidence of professional athletes getting taped to goal posts or hogtied in their hotel room with a bunch of singles thrown around them, hazing with professional athletes is too often shaken off or completely ignored. In Brown’s case, the Milwaukee Bucks even applauded the popcorn prank by posting the video on their Twitter account with a quote from Antetokounmpo stating, “This is what you get when you don’t do your rookie duties!!” By turning the blind eye or encouraging hazing, professional athletes and their organizations are not only condoning it, but are also raising the bar of acceptability. Today, the NBA may find the popcorn prank seemingly harmless, but because it does, it may lead professional athletes to test the boundaries with more strenuous pranks, thereby establishing a slippery slope with hazing.
So how do we change the hazing culture of professional sports if even the organizations themselves are condoning it? Primarily, we can start by actually enforcing State anti-hazing laws with professional athletes. Second, we can stop encouraging player’s antics by disciplining them within their organization. Finally, we can stop laughing and begin to hold professional athletes accountable for their actions, as you would any other individual. One thing is for sure, if this were a high-school football team shaving the heads of their Freshman players and posting it on social media for the world to see we would be having a completely different conversation, but because professional athletes are involved we seem to let it go.
 Alysha Tsuji, Bucks rookie finds his car full of popcorn, USA Today (Jan. 9, 2018), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ftw/2018/01/09/giannis-antetokounmpo-happily-watches-bucks-rookie-find-his-car-full-of-popcorn/109312388/.
 National Football League, http://www.nfl.com/photoessays/0ap3000000833600 (last visited Feb. 11, 2018). Yes, the National Football League actually posted pictures of these haircuts on their website with the caption “Check out some of the best rookie haircuts.” Id.
 Broncos’ class of 2017 got their rookie haircuts and they’re amazing and awful, The Denver Post (Aug. 22, 2017), https://www.denverpost.com/2017/08/22/broncos-rookie-haircuts-2017/.
 Stop Hazing, https://www.stophazing.org/university-college-policies/states-with-anti-hazing-laws/ (last visited Feb. 11, 2018).
 Stop Hazing, https://www.stophazing.org/frequently-asked-questions/ (last visited Feb. 11, 2018).
 Matt Ufford, The NFL’s disastrous lack of an anti-hazing policy, SB Nation (Nov. 5, 2013), https://www.sbnation.com/2013/11/5/5065834/jonathan-martin-richie-incognito-dolphins-rookie-hazing.
 Ryan Wilson, Cowboys WR Dez Bryant refused to be hazed as a rookie, CBSSports.com (Nov. 8, 2013), https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/cowboys-wr-dez-bryant-refused-to-be-hazed-as-a-rookie/.
 Ryan Wilson, Eagles’ Mathis calls $64,000 dinner bill ‘teaching rookies a lesson’, CBSSports.com (June 12, 2014), https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/eagles-mathis-calls-64000-dinner-bill-teaching-rookies-a-lesson/.
 Andrew Gould, Browns Players Make Rookie Defensive Linemen Pay for $37,000 Team Dinner, Bleacher Report (Dec. 19, 2017), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2750069-browns-players-make-rookie-defensive-linemen-pay-for-37000-team-dinner.
 Incognito, others tormented Martin, ESPN (Feb. 15, 2014), http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/10455447/miami-dolphins-bullying-report-released-richie-incognito-others-responsible-harassment.
 Richie Incognito: No mending fences with Jonathan Martin, ESPN (Oct. 19, 2016), http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/17835460/richie-incognito-says-jonathan-martin-patched-differences.
 Sports Illustrated, https://www.si.com/nfl/photos/2013/07/23/nfl-rookie-hazing-through-years#1 (last visited Feb. 11, 2018); Kyle Rooney, Gilbert Arenas Shares a Photo of The Time He Hazed A Rookie Nick Young, HNHH (Mar. 30, 2017), https://www.hotnewhiphop.com/gilbert-arenas-shares-photo-of-the-time-he-hazed-a-rookie-nick-young-news.30724.html.
 Tsuji, supra note 1.