PHILADELPHIA -- Cary Williams broke into the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, spent four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent this year.
He has seen how hazing is handled in the cultures of three different locker rooms.
“A lot of guys in Baltimore didn’t believe in it,” Williams said. “They really didn’t care for it. Not that they felt there wasn’t a place for it, they just didn’t make a rookie sit in a cold tub if he didn’t feel like sitting in a cold tub. Or putting Icy Hot in a helmet. We had those situations in Tennessee.”
Williams said Titans coach Jeff Fisher participated in the age-old prank of sending rookies out to get free turkeys before Thanksgiving.
“There was nothing but ice in the turkey boxes,” Williams said. “It was all in good fun.”
Fisher’s role is not surprising. That gag was standard in Philadelphia, and Fisher played for and coached under Buddy Ryan. It’s also an example of how hazing can be a kind of rite of passage without turning into intimidation or bullying.
“We had good leadership in place to kind of manage those situations, and it didn’t get out of hand,” Williams said. “To me, it made the locker room a little bit more fun. I remember vividly, I had my Jordans thrown in a cold tub. I only found one of those shoes. I’m still looking for it.”
“The hazing should be there to build camaraderie and to grow together as a group,” Eagles guard Evan Mathis said. “It shouldn’t be where someone’s getting bullied and put down and making them feel bad. That’s not what we’re trying to do.”
The Eagles of the 1980s and 1990s engaged in a certain amount of rookie hazing. In the lunch room at training camp, rookies would have to sing their school song or perform some other act to amuse the veterans. I distinctly remember a player being taped to a goalpost at Lehigh University and left there until someone noticed and cut him loose.
Andy Reid put an end to all that when he became head coach in 1999.
“Andy was very much against hazing and all that stuff,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said.
Reid was here 14 years, plenty of time for the culture of hazing to shrivel up and die. When Chip Kelly brought his progressive, modern approach here this year, there was no major change in policy needed.
"Chip hasn’t really spoken about hazing or anything," Williams said. "I don’t think this team functions like that. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some teams do it, some teams don’t. We're one of the teams that don’t. It’s fine with me."
Rookies still have to buy meals for the veterans at their positions. Rookie safety Earl Wolff is in charge of buying snacks for the defensive backs meetings.
“But that’s more like paying your dues than it is hazing,” second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks said.
“We're all on the same team,” Kelly said, “and I think everyone should be treated the same way. Some of our young offensive linemen make sure there’s water stocked in the offensive line meeting room, but everybody’s a professional. We don’t do a rookie show, we don’t do those things. Everybody is on the same side.”
Make no mistake. Fun is had in the NovaCare Complex. Players spray air freshener after a flatulent teammate crop dusts one corner of the locker room. There is a pool table in the players’ lounge that gets plenty of use.
"We do pranks on each other," Kendricks said. "If someone gets me, I try to get them back. But it's never about disrespecting someone else."
There is a common theme, Williams said: "We treat every man here with respect."