When the Chiefs reconvened Monday after their bye week, coach Andy Reid didn’t have to say a word or warn his team about hazing in the locker room.
They already knew.
Aside from rookies carrying veterans shoulder pads up the hill at training camp, the Chiefs have a no-hazing policy.
“We’re not a hazing team, we don’t encourage that,” Reid said in his first comments to reporters since the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga in Miami became national news last week. “That’s just not how we operate.”
While some teams have their rookies sing, perform skits and tie rookies to the goal posts at camp — remember the Chiefs’ theatrics in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series in 2007? — Reid discourages such histrionics.
Reid traces his feelings to Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, who mentored Reid’s boss at Green Bay, Mike Holmgren, and took that principle to Philadelphia when he became a head coach in 1999.
“Bill Walsh felt the rookies were an integral part of the team, and you treat them like men, and we expect them to play like the rest of the guys,” Reid said. “Mike Holmgren did the same thing.”
Once John Harbaugh, one of Reid’s assistants at Philadelphia, became the Baltimore Ravens’ coach in 2008, he implemented Reid’s policy.
“Anybody who comes into our locker room is a teammate,” said Harbaugh, whose team won last season’s Super Bowl. “You don’t have to earn your stripes that way. There are some fun things guys do. The guys have to buy chicken for the road trips But, our guys do a great job ”
Harbaugh also implemented a program in 2008 in which every rookie is assigned an older mentor.
“Veteran leadership shines in terms of how they (conduct themselves), what kind of people they are,” Harbaugh said. “Things can be hidden from teachers and coaches and everything else. But, you also have to be vigilant if you are in a leadership position as a teacher or a coach or a boss. Try to ask a lot of questions and try to talk to people all the time. Most people will tell you what’s on their mind if you really want to find out most of the time. And we’ve found that to be true here.”
Former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon has been on both sides of bullying and hazing. In Miami, Martin left the team after saying he was bullied. Incognito, suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins for his alleged harassment of Martin, denies that he bullied Martin.
“I’ve seen first-hand how this can divide and destroy a locker room, a team, and quite frankly an entire organization,” said Gannon, now an analyst for CBS. “Early in my career in Minnesota, the older players there was a culture that existed where they were worried about their jobs. They didn’t reach out and help younger players.
“I also went to places like Kansas City where Marty Schottenheimer created a culture and environment where none of this existed. Older players reached out to younger players and welcomed them to the organization and were very supportive.”
And then there was Oakland, where older players bullied younger players, which Gannon said, “made me sick.”
“I remember coming into the locker room my very first year there and saw a group of defensive linemen had our young tight end tied up with tape,” said Gannon, who joined the Raiders in 1999 and led them a Super Bowl in 2002. “They were punching him. They were putting Icy Hot and baby powder with water on this guy. They were trying to demoralize the player.
“I freaked out. I said, ‘I need this guy on Sunday.’ I really thought I helped change the culture and environment in that building. If this exists in your locker room, you have no chance of being successful. Unfortunately, it still exists in certain locker rooms.”
In Baltimore, the veterans do have their rookies sing in the cafeteria during training camp.
“I’m actually somebody who wishes I didn’t have to sing in front of the team,” said Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco. “I’d rather have them tape me to a goalpost than have to sing in front of the team. But we’re pretty good about it here. We’ve got a good group of guys, and anything that we do is all in good nature.”
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith expected to be hazed as a rookie and was surprised when it didn’t happen.
“If you’re going to sit there and bully a rookie who you’re going to need or keep him up at night hazing him, having them scared to come to work the next day then how is that person going to help you when you need them?” said Smith, the Ravens’ first-round draft pick in 2011. “I anticipated being hazed; I watched ‘Hard Knocks.’
“We came out of the lockout and they had missed the whole offseason of potential hazing. To my surprise, I came in and Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, (Terrell) Suggs, Haloti (Ngata) took us right in (saying), ‘All right, we need you to be ready to play. We don’t have time to haze. You’ve got to sing, buy Popeye’s, but that’s it.’ It’s more so about a family atmosphere and welcoming you in instead of tearing you down and trying to isolate you. I don’t get how hazing even brings a team closer. It’s stupid to me.”
Harbaugh is from a football family, and he’s seen hazing at other places in another time.
“It was different 25 years ago,” Harbaugh said. “When I was in college at Miami (Ohio), there was hazing. I look back on it, and it was things that you would never tolerate today. So, we’ve grown as a society, and maybe we are growing past some of that stuff. But, you see it in all areas of life. We better be more tuned into it, maybe now, all of us, than we have in the past.”