Press-Republican

November 17, 2013

Something needs to change

By STEVE OUELLETTE, You Had To Ask
Press-Republican

---- — When children ask me about bullying, among the things I tell them is that “once you get out of high school, that goes away.”

When you’re on a college campus or in the workforce, your peers have matured. They’re more accepting of physical appearance or personality quirks or just plain bashfulness. It’s a clean slate.

Oops. Now, we discover that even a fully grown (6-foot-5, 310-pound) football player of tremendous strength is not immune to bullying.

Great. Kids, forget I said anything.

Headlines have been made recently by Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins, a mammoth offensive lineman who left his football team due to systematic hazing over the past two years.

How about this: “Kids, once you get your AARP card and your first colonoscopy, no one will ever bother you again.”

Despite being the victim, Martin has faced enormous criticism for not standing up to his bully. Why doesn’t he toughen up? Why doesn’t he just punch perpetrator Richie Incognito in the face?

I ask, why should he have to?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard over and over again that this is just the culture of the locker room. It’s different than anywhere else. It’s a profane, sweaty place where men are cruel to each other because … because that’s the way it’s always been.

Ah yes, the “that’s the way it’s always been” excuse.

That would explain why my wife is down at the stream right now washing the clothes by smacking them on the rocks. That would explain why football players wear those leather helmets and Coca-Cola is still sneaking cocaine into their carbonated beverages. The way it’s always been.

It doesn’t makes a player or a cadet or a fraternity pledge tougher to walk blindfolded through a gauntlet of peers wielding paddles or socks full of nickels. Team chemistry isn’t improved by making the youngest recruits climb through the briar patch naked; long-lasting bonds of friendship aren’t formed by forcing someone to drink his own urine; fun isn’t had by all when Icy Hot is spread on the private parts of naive newcomers.

As a general rule, those being hazed don’t enjoy the experience. But because that’s the way it’s always been, they accept it — then wait their turn to inflict it.

A college student in Ohio recently lost a testicle to a hazing ritual, but he defended his soon-to-be “brothers.” Just an accident. Now when can I do it to someone else?

I’d like to make a radical proposal. Let’s change the way it’s always been. A football team can win games without any hazing at all. A college student can have a successful and enjoyable time without being physically and/or emotionally humiliated in any way. Honest.

Instead of NFL veterans torturing nervous rookies, making them wear dresses and hitting them with $30,000 dinner bills they can’t afford, how about buying them a nice meal and taking them on a team-building fishing trip? That might earn actual respect.

For college hazing, how about forcing the pledge to attend seven parties in seven days, and NOT drink? He has to act as the designated driver, must escort home anyone in danger of date rape, and will be breathalyzed at the end of the evening.

Instead of performing random acts of stupidity, how about forcing them to perform random acts of kindness?

Frankly, I’m a little disappointed in my gender. Yes, I know that girls are guilty of bullying and hazing too, in their own twisted and psychologically damaging ways, but the problem is more prevalent among males.

Maybe we’ve progressed from hitting women over the head with a club and dragging them by the hair back to our caves, but that took 50,000 years or so of evolution. Jonathan Martin and the next generation of sensitive, bullied kids need help now.

Perhaps we should just make a rule that all males, ages 15 to 35, must remain separated from other men at all times, never traveling in groups of more than two. I don’t know what it is — perhaps the mingled combination of testosterone, Axe body spray and beer (energy drink idea!) — but when you put three or more young men together, the collective IQ starts to sink. There’s the ever-present danger of mob mentality taking over, with all rules, sense and social mores escaping out the window.

Something has to be done, because the way it’s always been is kind of messed up.

Email Steve Ouellette: ouellette1918@gmail.com