Jags' Jack Del Rio bans rookie hazing
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quarterback Blaine Gabbert gets to keep his long blonde hair. Guard Will Rackley doesn't have to worry about losing his eyebrows. In fact, all of Jacksonville's rookies are safe from training camp hazing.
Coach Jack Del Rio ended the practice this season, saying players need to have more respect for each other.
I don't see why people make such a big deal about it. I would let them shave my head before my eyebrows. Nobody is touching my eyebrows.” -- Blaine Gabbert on his hair
That was welcome news for Gabbert, the 10th pick in April's NFL draft. The former Missouri standout had mentally prepared himself to get buzzed during camp. But now his golden locks are safe.
"There's other ways to have fun with the rookies," Gabbert said Monday.
Just a few, though, in Jacksonville.
Del Rio made it clear that hazing should be limited to the "Rookie Show," an annual talent competition put on by newcomers. Del Rio also will allow dance competitions in the locker room and continue to have rookies carry veterans' helmets and shoulder pads off the field following practices.
"The whole thing really had gotten carried away in recent years," Del Rio said. "We wanted to rein it in a little bit while still letting the guys have some fun."
Hazing stories in Jacksonville include players being taped to goal posts and covered in baby powder, cars being sealed in plastic wrap and clothes being tossed in a cold tub. Haircuts, though, have taken center stage in recent years. Mohawks, mullets and bowl cuts would be considered tame by comparison.
Some had patterns and designs. Others had names and numbers. None would be considered stylish and a few deemed not suitable for all audiences.
Offensive lineman Kevin Haslam's haircut may have been the worst last fall, so inappropriate that the only way to describe it would be to call it an indecent figure shaved across his head.
"One thing coach said was while hazing was humorous for most of us vets, it's not necessary," guard Uche Nwaneri said. "We respect that. We're going to honor his wishes. It doesn't mean we can't make them do stuff for us. They're still rookies. But we'll follow how Jack wants it to go.
"Whether it's a rookie or a 10-year vet, everyone deserves a level of respect. We all agree that's something we want to show to each other."
Gabbert, and his fans, may have benefited most from the new rules.
"He got lucky. He got off the hook," receiver Mike Thomas said. "I was going to design an (No.) 80 in the back of it. ... You definitely can tell if he lost (his hair), he might lose a little pep in his step."
Thomas endured a horrendous hairdo for several days in 2009, and said his first reaction to Del Rio's new credo was "I thought about why I had to get here when I did."
"That hazing, it's not any fun," Thomas said. "I respect it. At the same time, guys can sometimes get out of hand with the hazing. ... I definitely respect it. When orders come down from the top, you've got to obey them."
Gabbert surely won't object, either, even though he doesn't really understand fans' obsession with his hair.
"I don't see why people make such a big deal about it," he said. "I would let them shave my head before my eyebrows. Nobody is touching my eyebrows."
Rackley, a third-round pick from Lehigh, heard all sorts of horror stories over the summer. He planned to ask teammates to shave his eyebrows instead of his dreadlocks. Now he gets to keep both.
"It definitely helps out with the whole transition of coming in as a rookie, having these guys accept you and becoming part of the family," Rackley said.
Del Rio said guys never shaved teammates' hair or eyebrows during his 11 years in the league, adding that the only hazing came in the form of veterans having rookies sing and dance.
Receiver Kassim Osgood dealt with much more as a rookie in 2003. He was tied up and beaten, and had his helmet hidden before nearly every workout. He understands why Del Rio made the change, especially since the lockout left teams with less time to form bonds and develop chemistry.
"We're more focused on team building than hazing right now," Osgood said. "We don't want to have anybody here feeling like they're in an atmosphere where they're not welcome and have that affect them on the field. We want everybody to be as productive as possible.
"You're still going to get hazed, but in a different kind of way. This season, with no offseason, we don't have the time to do anything other than get ready for the season."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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