Powers: Changes coming to a locker room near you
By Tom Powers
Listen, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Justin Morneau in a Hooters outfit.
Or Matt Guerrier in a gray miniskirt. Or Jason Kubel in a billowy red dress that made him look like a strumpet from an Old West saloon. Or former Twin Michael Restovich, a hulking outfielder, in a floor-length sarong matched with a sleeveless blouse.
It’s a Twins tradition that before for the final road trip of each season, the rookies have to wear women’s clothing from their own clubhouse all the way to their destination hotel. And not just any women’s clothing, either. The outfits, provided by a handful of veterans, are tacky and revealing. Some of those images from over the years remain etched in my brain and still result in the occasional nightmare.
Actually, it’s all pretty funny. But I wonder how long that ritual will last. And I wonder if Timberwolves rookies still will be made to push the water cart around at practice or if Vikings rookies still will be required to stand up in the dining hall and sing their school song. All these customs appear to be jeopardy, for better or for worse.
There is going to be major fallout as a result of the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal. The NFL already has announced it is going to investigate the whole “culture of the locker room.” With the prospect of lawsuits from this awful scandal, rest assured that other sports leagues, pro and college, will do the same as a preventative measure.
A report issued by independent investigator Ted Wells, issued last week, revealed a pattern of harassment by several out-of-control Dolphins players. They bullied others. And I’ll admit that I never thought I’d hear the word “bully” in connection with an NFL locker room. But this specific case is coming at a time when an entire nation seems to be mobilizing against this sort of thing, particularly where kids are involved.
We’ve all known Richie Incognito types — knuckleheads who relentlessly say the most hateful, intimidating things. My generation was taught that the only way to deal with a bully was to stand up to him. No matter if the guy was bigger, stronger and older, the idea was that a willingness to stand up for oneself would dissuade the tormentor from further activity.
That was a faulty theory. If a bully could knock you around, that was just icing on the cake. That’s how he got the job title, by being rotten. So it’s good that there’s a movement underfoot. But the fact that certain Dolphins players took it to a higher level, combined with the big-dollar stakes of pro sports, means there are going to be major changes in locker rooms everywhere. All activity is going to come under scrutiny, whether that involves the rookies having to buy dinner for the older guys, or first-year players being ordered to carry the shoulder pads of the veterans.
It should be noted that changes were taking place even prior to the Jonathan Martin incident. Many of today’s coaches seem a bit more in tune to their players’ behavior, the Miami Dolphins staff notwithstanding, and have been vocal in ordering their squads to “lay off the rookies.” For example, “the shave” is becoming obsolete in hockey. Right into the 1990s “the shave” was a ritual on every NHL team and even many junior and college teams.
Veterans would pounce upon a young player, tie him to a bench or bed and then shave his entire body. No water, no shaving cream, no nothin’. It was considered a rite of passage. The nicks and cuts would last for a week or two, and I’ve heard stories of players missing time because of an ensuing infection. That’s just the way it was, and nobody thought twice about it. If that practice wasn’t officially outlawed under penalty of suspension, it’s about to be.
Baseball players are famous for getting a gullible youngster to lie on a blanket, supposedly to see the old levitation trick, and then rolling him up and squirting ketchup and mustard in there. And I don’t know how many NFL rookies have fallen for the old milk-drinking trick. After a hard practice in the hot sun, some veteran bets a rookie that he can’t drink a gallon of milk within, say, half an hour. They all can, of course. And they all down it with no problem. But what follows soon after the last gulp is pretty ugly. Let’s just say the human digestive system isn’t quite geared for this exercise.
Bonding or bullying? It probably won’t matter anymore. Everyone was asleep at the switch in Miami as the knuckleheads took over and created a national disgrace. Young Martin caught hell from veterans such as Incognito during his first two years in the league. He finally couldn’t take it anymore and walked away. This is never, ever going to happen again.
I’m even wondering if young players still will be ordered to carry a “My Little Pony” or “Dora the Explorer” backpack on road trips.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.