CLEMSON — When Steve Spurrier became Florida’s head coach in 1990, it was permissible for established players to force the freshmen to shave their heads and carry the older guys’ helmets and pads.
“We did away with all of that,” said Spurrier, now in his ninth season at South Carolina. “I don’t believe in any of that crap. None of it. Everybody’s on the same team, especially with freshmen eligible now. We’re all on the same team, and just treat everybody the same. That’s what we try to do here.”
At Clemson, the philosophy isn’t much different.
Brandon Thomas, the Tigers’ veteran left tackle, and Ryan Norton, the young center, were asked the same questions, separately, without knowing ahead of time the scorching-hot topic of hazing would be broached.
Their responses were nearly identical.
That’s how in tune two of Clemson’s offensive linemen are on the subject of bullying. In that it’s really not a subject at all for college football’s No. 8 team in the BCS Standings.
Mess in Miami
Thomas and Norton are busy guys, but during the Tigers’ off week they did casually follow the explosive reports coming out of Miami. Dolphins Pro Bowl left guard Richie Incognito has been suspended indefinitely for excessive hazing of second-year left tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the team in late October amid emotional distress.
On Nov. 4, it was revealed Incognito left a graphic voice mail in April that included racial slurs and a death threat. The reports of continued mistreatment and harassment have dominated the headlines ever since.
Thomas, a fifth-year senior and 2012 All-ACC left tackle, and Norton, a sophomore center and the only new regular starter on the offensive line, each calmly stated nothing of the like happens at their school.
“It doesn’t happen here. We’re a family. We consider everybody as family,” said Thomas, who has already graduated with a degree in secondary education. “If we were so-called bullies, it’d be playing around and stuff. We don’t consider bullying that serious here, because we just don’t see it.”
Obviously, nobody outside the Clemson locker room truly knows everything that goes on in the Clemson locker room. Hearing from Thomas and Norton, however, it sounds like even wet willies and noogies would be of the rare variety — forget hate-filled slurs (contextual or not) and aggressive taunting.
Norton’s answer to the same question was similar to what Thomas said.
“Here at Clemson, I don’t see that at all. We’re a family here,” Norton said. “We look out for each other. We’ll throw little playful jabs at each other, but nothing serious, nothing that, you know, would bring anybody to that point. And if they were bringing it to that point, we would correct it right there. So that’s not something I see as a big deal here.”
Norton replaced four-year starter Dalton Freeman this fall. So have the older guards and tackles done anything out of the ordinary to toughen him up?
“I haven’t received any of it. If anything, I’ve received encouragement,” Norton said. “I wouldn’t say they really tested me. They had confidence in me when I came in. That’s all I really needed. Like I said, we’re a family here. We treat each other like brothers. That’s the way it should be.”
Neither South Carolina nor Clemson has a firm policy outlawing hazing, but that’s mainly because neither program perceives it to be a problem.
“Of course, we don’t have any players here that were ever hazed,” Spurrier said. “So it’s a non-issue with us here. If you allow it at the beginning, it can continue. But we really don’t even have to talk about it much.
“Help out the younger guys. That’s what we tell the older guys. If they get lost on campus, can’t find the classroom, help them out a little bit. That’s what we try to do here.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney demands proper treatment of every individual in his building.
“We’ve got a policy on how everybody treats everybody. Just treat people with respect and class, that’s the bottom line,” Swinney said. “Whether it’s the janitors here, the secretaries, the freshmen, whatever. There’s no tolerance at all for just poor behavior and treating people with a lack of respect.”
At the same time, it doesn’t boggle Swinney’s mind that something like the Incognito-Martin incident could happen.
“Anytime there’s people involved in anything, there’s going to always be bad character, bad integrity, stupidity. Because we’re people, and we do stupid things,” Swinney said. “If you allow things like that to happen, it will come back and bite you.”
The one inquiry giving Norton pause was trying to imagine how such disarray could not only happen within the bond of a football team, but why other players would condone it.
“It’s a little hard to believe, but it’s really not my place to say what it is,” Norton said, referring to the Miami Dolphins. “That’s their franchise, that’s their program, they can deal with it the way they want to. I just know here at Clemson, we’re not really anywhere close to that.”
Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd will be an NFL rookie next year, but he’s not concerned for his safety or happiness among his elders.
“I’ve never been a part of hazing. I haven’t really been on a team where it’s been a part of that,” Boyd said. “I mean, you have rituals. You might get thrown in the ice tub or something like that. But nothing to the extreme.”
Even when Spurrier played 10 years and coached two years in the NFL, it wasn’t an issue.
“No, I never experienced anything in the 10 years I was in the NFL. Nothing even close to hazing,” he said. “We didn’t have any of that.”