Columns & Blogs

49ers baseball, Panthers coach Rivera touched by hazing

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera says he wasn’t hazed as a football player at California or as a Chicago Bear. Then there was the night he pledged for a fraternity.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera says he wasn’t hazed as a football player at California or as a Chicago Bear. Then there was the night he pledged for a fraternity. AP

The Charlotte 49ers really will open the baseball season Saturday. The opener has long felt imaginary. Already it has been postponed twice – once by weather and once by hazing.

Charlotte was scheduled to open the season Feb. 13 at Georgia. But after the 49ers kicked five players off the team for hazing and temporarily halted baseball operations because of hazing, the Bulldogs canceled the series. They didn’t know if the 49ers could honor their commitment.

Hazing is nasty and moronic, and somehow it has survived. What benefits does the practice confer? If you’re not hazed, are you less loyal? Is your new coworker less beholden to the company because he or she wasn’t beaten with a paddle or compelled to drink shots?

Three baseball players were suspended in November and two were suspended in December. The program was shut down in November and restored in December.

Baseball coach Loren Hibbs is not available to comment. Athletic director Judy Rose is. What did the suspended players do?

“I can’t discuss that at this time because we have an ongoing investigation,” Rose says from her office Thursday.

Could they be reinstated? Could other players be kicked off?

“I can’t address that,” Rose says.

How’d you find out about the hazing?

“I definitely can’t address that,” she says.

Were you shocked?

“Was I – yeah, yeah,” says Rose. “It’s hard for me to fathom having to participate in something you really didn’t want to but felt peer pressure. Peer pressure should be positive.”

Also unfathomable is that hazing exists in 2015. It lurks.

Rose says she annually talks about hazing at the freshmen seminar, which all freshmen athletes are required to attend. She says she talked about hazing with the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. Comprised of leaders of individual teams, SAAC is a conduit between the administration and athletes. Rose says she talked about hazing at a mandatory meeting for everybody involved in athletics. She says she talked about hazing in individual meetings with each of the school’s teams.

The 49ers will work with the Janssen Sports Leadership Center. Known for developing campus leaders, Janssen has worked with numerous schools, among them North Carolina, N.C. State and Michigan. Janssen will address a variety of issues, among them hazing.

“What does it mean to be a leader?” Rose asks. “And do you see anything good coming out of hazing? I haven’t read anything that says, ‘Wow, isn’t this great leadership!’”

The premise behind hazing is twofold: We did it so you have to, and we’re not smart.

When Carolina Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera was a defensive coordinator, he noticed that one of his coaches relentlessly criticized a man at the bottom of the coaching chain. No matter what the lesser coach did, he failed. Rivera asked the coach why he rode the man so hard.

“When I was in his position that’s what I had to put up with,” said the coach.

“That doesn’t make it right,” said Rivera.

Rivera made it right. The coach stopped.

During Rivera’s first season as Carolina’s head coach he saw a rookie tied up and dipped into a tub of cold water, not once, but at intervals. What happens if he’s dropped, Rivera wondered? Too dangerous, he decided, and the rookie was freed.

Rivera favors the acts that bond a team – the singing of school fight songs, for example.

“There’s a line, and as long as you don’t cross it, it can help bring teammates together,” he says. “The Charlotte baseball players must have crossed it.”

I have no idea what the baseball players did.

But if they crossed the line, others trampled it. Remember the hazing death of the band member at Florida A&M; the alcohol-related death of the freshman fraternity pledge at Northern Illinois; Richie Incognito and friends who, as Miami Dolphins, hazed fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin?

The practice is sufficiently common that a Washington D.C. law firm specializes in hazing.

Rose played college basketball at Winthrop and was an assistant under the great Pat Summit at Tennessee. She says she was never hazed.

Rivera says he wasn’t hazed as a football player at California or as a Chicago Bear. Then there was the night he pledged for a fraternity.

“They wanted you to drink and drink, and there were shots, and every time you messed up you had to drink a shot,” Rivera says.

This was during football season, and Rivera told his hosts he wasn’t drinking. Not happy, the frat fellows pressured the star linebacker, telling him that the other pledges were drinking, and did he want to let them down?

“I unpledged,” Rivera said, and he walked out.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

  Comments