With the recent allegation of rookie bullying by Miami Dolphins' offensive lineman Richie Incognito, it has caused many across the league to examine the idea of rookie hazing. It is an extremely common practice that clearly was being taken way too far in Incognito's case which included threatening messages and racial slurs directed at now second year offensive tackle, Jonathan Martin.
The discussion was picked up on Sirius XM NFL radio and former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon got very passionately opposed to the idea of some of what he sees as extreme forms of rookie hazing, calling out Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, saying such behavior "reeks of bad leadership everywhere in the building. I think as a coach it's your job to create a culture and environment where that doesn't exist."
The Raiders locker room under Al Davis was always known as a loose and undisciplined place. In that environment rookie hazing was taken to its limits. Late in his career, Rich Gannon hopped onboard a rudderless ship in Oakland that he was charged with putting on the right course.
He recalled his first real contact with the kind of hazing that went on with the Raiders at the time.
"When I went out to Oakland in '99 I almost got sick to my stomach it was so dysfunctional and I saw things that I couldn't believe I was seeing," said Gannon. "Where veteran guys would go to the rookies. I remember getting a call during training camp from a couple young players who were rookies and said ‘you're not gonna believe this. They want us to take them to dinner and they said because I'm a first round pick, I've gotta pay $10,000 and my roommate's a second round pick and he's gotta pay $7500.'
"That's the amount of money they were gonna make them pay to go into San Francisco where they'd go to I'm sure adult entertainment clubs and to go to place where they can spend thousands and thousands of dollars on dinner. Bruce, they would take these guys to dinner and they would order two or three entrees each and then they would order the most expensive wine off the wine list - $12-$1500 bottles, bottles of Don Perignon. And then they would take bottles home with them. They would tell the waiter ‘bring me two more bottles, put it on the tab.'"
This is very similar to some of the charges being brought against Incognito as well as other veteran Dolphins players in which they would force rookies such as Martin to pay thousands of dollars to fund their trips to South Beach clubs and even a trip to Las Vegas.
It was somewhat easier for highly drafted rookies to pay for such excursions during the days of no rookie caps. The first and second round picks for the Raiders in 1999 were offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb and defensive end Tony Bryant.
Gannon wasn't done, however. He remembers the breaking point for him as far as hazing in his Raiders days.
"Really where I couldn't take it anymore was, we were getting ready for a game, middle part of the season and we had a rookie tight end that came into the locker room after practice one day. We had practice in shorts and weren't in pads and basically I saw about six defensive lineman grab this guy by the locker room door and jump on him, throw him to the ground, they went out and got athletic tape, taped this guy up, began to rip his clothes off, get icy hot and baby powder and other things from the training room and they would throw it on the guy and they would pour water on him, just to try and demoralize the guy. And then what they would do is they would take him and they would give him Charlie horses. They would punch the guy in the thigh and the arm... I literally walked in and saw this and what was so upsetting is I saw other players in the perimeter standing around cheering and laughing and giggling. I went in there and I had a meltdown. I said ‘I need this guy. I need that guy right there on Sunday to help me win a football game and you guys are beating him up. How's that gonna make him feel any better for Sunday?'
That rookie tight end was likely 2000 round seven pick Mondriel Fulcher who played three seasons with the team.
Gannon called extreme rookie hazing "a loser's mentality". Hard to argue with him considering after his first season in Oakland, the Raiders went 33-15 over his next three seasons culminating in a trip to the Super Bowl. Sounds like he knew what he was talking about. Remove the loser mentality, become a winning team.
"It's one thing to have a tradition where we're gonna have the rookies sing their fight song," Gannon continued. "That doesn't hurt anybody. That's maybe a rite of passage if you will. They've been asked sometimes in certain training camps to put on a rookie talent show, to go up there and sing or dance or make fun or tell jokes or whatever. That's fine. But that's really where it should begin and end."
His thoughts are in line with Dennis Allen's. This season he eliminated rookie hazing altogether. The one thing he did keep? The rookie talent show. One in which he and several veteran players called probably the worst they had ever seen. But still, all in good fun.
Incognito has been suspended indefinitely and his actions are being investigated by the NFL. His case is somewhat of a unique one, but I would guess more and more teams will phase out rookie hazing.