Thursday, July 29, 2010

Les Carpenter, Superhero of Justice

By Kevin Beane

In case you didn't hear, Dez Bryant made a mildly unfortunate decision about something quite inconsequential but by gum, it gave us something to debate and I am going to debate it with the new breed of breathless writer. Slant Pattern readers, I give you Les Carpenter.

It took one practice for Dez Bryant, supposedly too immature to play in the NFL, to reveal the childishness of a tradition that long lost its relevance.

So it used to be okay, but now it's not. I can't wait to hear why. (Okay, full disclosure: I already know why, it's further down in his column, and it's a humdinger).

Somehow, through the fog of old football players warbling their embellished yarns about days long forgotten and contrived vignettes on "Hard Knocks"...

I can't read that sentence fragment without wincing in literary pain.

"...a notion has formed that rookie football players need to be treated like laboratory test animals to gain respect."

Thank you, Les Carpenter! I too am outraged they put makeup on Dez Bryant, dropped him in a maze, and injected him with whooping cough.

It was in this spirit of camaraderie that Dallas Cowboys receiver Roy Williams — he of just 57 catches so far in his time with the team — ordered Bryant to carry his shoulder pads off the field after Sunday's training camp workout. Thank goodness Bryant refused because this needs to stop.

That's 57 more catches than Dez Bryant has. It's also 57 more than his self-appointed defense attorney here. (Bryant also has 36 fewer receptions than Tashard Choice and 523 fewer than Jason Witten, but who's counting?)

"I'm trying to win a championship, not carry players' pads," Bryant later told reporters on the side of the field.

This makes me want to follow Bryant around training camp and make sure everything he does promotes winning a championship. Why are you brushing your teeth when you could be spending five more minutes on the exercise bike, getting in better shape to help bring the Cowboys a championship?

When pressed on the issue Bryant added: "it's not about playing games, it's about doing the right thing and try to achieve our goal."

You're the one playing games, Dez. By refusing to do what most if not all rookies have had to endure in their time, you run the risk of creating resentment among not just your fellow rookies, but the veterans who had to do it before you decided you were too good to. And that's why you didn't do it, not this imaginary reason cooked up by Carpenter, where you are striking a blow for justice for the rookie proletariat against the veteran bourgeoisie.

This, of course, has brought Bryant considerable scorn by those who have decided that his refusal to humiliate himself is irresponsible and will tear apart the Cowboys locker room.

"Picking up some bills, having a few pranks pulled on u n doing some odd jobs for the vets is a small price to pay to gain respect," Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers wrote on Twitter. As if there's dignity in being tied to a goalpost.

Carrying the shoulder pads of a veteran, picking up the check on an extravagant night out, and being tied to goalposts. One of these things is not like the others.

Maybe in the days long ago when players went by names like "Bronco" and played together on the same team for years, worked second jobs in the winter and spring, and then drank as one in the local watering holes, hazing had its place. But back then the idea of team was an eternal one. The same group lasted for several seasons — banging heads in the afternoon, then clinking mugs in the evening. There was no free agency. Like it or not, they were together for years and it was essential to build that unity.

But today's players are independent contractors...

This goes on for nearly two more paragraphs, but you get the idea. It's such a ridiculous argument against hazing, when there are so many valid ones to make, that it reveals to me that Carpenter's outrage is manufactured.

I am doing him a favor by not buying that he really believes this. It's a point that can be equally applied against any team-bonding exercise of any kind. Even in these days of free agency and "independent contractors," team unity and chemistry can and should be achieved, largely through bonding outside the chalk lines. Likewise, teams could have bonded and created that chemistry in the 1940s without making the noobs swallow live goldfish.

Last summer, not long after head of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith begged his constituents to start saving 25 percent of their money in preparation for a potential looming lockout, the San Diego Chargers treated themselves to a $14,508.67 dinner at the expense of first-round pick Larry English.

Larry English's salary last year was $2,570,000.

$14,500 is 0.56% of his salary. Paying this tab means he would have to get by on $2,556,000.

But wait! DeMaurice Smith warned players to save a quarter of their salary! Now he will have to make it work on just $1,913,500! And that's before taxes!

The Chargers, properly bonded as a team by English's generosity, lost three of their first five games.

Of course, after that they went 11-0 on the rest of the regular season, so you can't blame Carpenter for cherry-picking. But again I ask, should all teams overhaul everything they do if they hit a slump? Carpenter is making the case that a specific preseason event plays a role in the outcome of the season. But he can't just apply that to this rookie initiation hubbub — he has to apply it also to every little tradition and ritual that teams employ in order to bond as a team.

Twelve years ago, in a hazing ritual that still defies explanation, several New Orleans Saints players forced rookies to put pillowcases over their heads and run a gantlet of trusted older teammates who smacked them with bags of coins. One player wound up with blurred vision; another had a broken nose.

This is the statement that bothers me the most of all, because this is a very troublesome, serious issue. It does not belong on the same planet as an article about carrying a teammate]s shoulder pads or footing a bill for a party. By lumping serious hazing charges with completely harmless, easy, and at least mildly purposeful tasks, he undermines the more serious issue. Actually, he completely destroys it.

Tying players to goalposts, actually injuring them, truly humiliating them with emotionally scarring pranks or disrupting their personal lives (I've heard of players calling rookie's wives about non-existent affairs), that truly does need to stop.

Rookies carrying the water and buying the team dinners does not need to stop. These two categories of rookie travails could not be any more different, and Carpenter should be ashamed of putting them together. It's how I know his outrage, once again, is manufactured.

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