“I never joined a fraternity”

In college, I used to call fraternities “organized beer-drinking.”  They didn’t seem to be doing  much else.  I never joined one.  I also never saw any extreme hazing going on during “pledge week.”  But that may be because our campus was much smaller in those days at Point Park College (now “University”) in downtown Pittsburgh.  There wasn’t a whole lot of space for creative persecution of recruits.

In the news recently, a fraternity recruit at Clemson University was made to walk tight-rope like along a railing on a bridge.  He stumbled, caught himself on the railing under his arms, but then lost his grip.  He fell head-first into shallow water, striking rocks.  He was 19.  A young man who was all excited about starting a new year at college — instead, within weeks of arriving on the campus, was placed in a coffin.

This was only the latest story.  Other fraternities engaged in bizarre rituals, shaming their universities and resulting in the usual statements by university presidents:  “We have a policy in place about this sort of thing.”

Nice try.

Truly — university administrators are so naïve as to think that a few paragraphs in a binder are going to stop fraternities from putting recruits through a grind?

The practice is something that has always puzzled me — the tradition of mistreatment.

The worst hazing I ever heard of occurred not in a fraternity but on a football team.  It was what the freshmen had to go through at the University of Oklahoma.  This took place during the years when Bud Wilkinson was coaching in the 1950s and early 1960s.  The details were provided in the autobiography of troubled receiver Lance Rentzel.  His book’s title “When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow” refers to his trouble with the law, exposing himself to girls, when he was a pro-football player.  But the account of what he went through as a freshman on the Oklahoma football team is gripping for its unbelievable cruelty.

The freshmen were beaten, they were stripped naked and painted upon, they were splattered with manure, they were made to stand in a metal Coca-Cola container up to their neck in ice for an unendurable time…and just to keep them in line, the 18-year-olds were shocked with cattle prods.  All this while, assistant coaches were observing the ritual.

And when it’s all over, the assumption is that these freshmen are now WELCOME!  They’re now part of the inner circle with the godly OU football players?

This is something I’ve never swallowed.  That — when the hazing is over — it’s all done and forgotten, and you’re now “in.”

I don’t think so.  I think if somebody beat my behind with a sizable fraternity paddle, I’d remember it — and I’d remember who did it.

Fraternities, however, actually believe that when the hazing is over, you’re suddenly “brothers”?  No hard feelings?

There ARE hard feelings.  It’s just that fraternity members exercise a psychological and emotional venting not on the ones who abused them — but on the next group of newcomers.

This practice happens on every sports team that I know of.  The newcomers on the high school football team are made to do the “grunt” work of carrying the tackling dummies and other equipment.  The coaches silently allow the tradition to continue.

Fraternities are supposed to promote leadership.  (Hah!)  But all that I’ve seen with this tradition of mistreatment is members who are too chicken to take a stand and say, “Enough — this is wrong!”  Who would dare go against the sacred tradition — let alone deny members a chance to whack somebody else the way they themselves had to take it?





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