Jon Hamm downplays college hazing incident in which a man's pants were lit on fire — calls it a 'bummer of a thing'

Jon Hamm attends an Academy Awards viewing party in Beverly Hills on March 4, 2018. (Photo: Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
Jon Hamm attends an Academy Awards viewing party in Beverly Hills on March 4, 2018. (Photo: Greg Doherty/Getty Images)

Jon Hamm is going to have to do better than that.

The Mad Men alumnus has given thousands of interviews but seemed to be caught off-guard, unprepared, and agitated during a wide-ranging new interview with Esquire for the magazine’s spring/summer Big Black Book style manual. He was asked about being part of a violent college hazing incident at the University of Texas-Austin in 1990 that led to criminal charges against him and the permanent shuttering of that chapter of the fraternity. In fact, the interviewer noted that Hamm’s tone, after the topic was brought up, became “tinged with anger,” and he said, “I hope I didn’t sign up for a hit piece.”

What got him so upset? In April 2015, just after he concluded a stint in rehab for alcohol addiction and just before Mad Men ended, a 1991 lawsuit was surfaced in which a Sigma Nu pledge named Mark Allen Sanders claimed he was severely beaten, led around “with the claw of a hammer beneath his genitals,” and had his pants lit on fire by a group of seven fraternity brothers that included Hamm in November 1990.

Hamm specifically was called out in the lawsuit, which was widely reported at the time, but that was long before he became famous. Sanders alleged that Hamm became “mad, I mean really mad,” when Sanders was unable to recite things he was supposed to memorize about the frat members. For instance, Hamm’s list included “Young Bobby,” ”MC Hammer,” and “UT Football Punching Bag.” Sanders also alleged that Hamm hit him with a paddle and shoved his face in the dirt. “He rears back and hits me left-handed, and he hit me right over my right kidney, I mean square over it,” Sanders said in the lawsuit. “Good solid hit and that, that stood me right up.” He said he suffered a fractured spine and nearly lost a kidney, and he noted that Hamm participated “till the very end.” Hamm was one of “the most serious offenders,” Travis County Attorney Ken Oden said at the time, according to the Washington Post.

People reported that an arrest warrant was served for Hamm and the others in 1993. According to AP, the future actor received deferred adjudication for his hazing charge, which under Texas law allows a case to be dismissed if the defendant successfully completes probation. A separate assault charge was dropped. However, Hamm was long gone from Texas by then. University records show that he left school in the same semester that the alleged hazing occurred, the AP reported. (He returned to St. Louis, where he became a daycare teacher at the University of Missouri.) Sanders’s lawsuit was ultimately dismissed in 1993 but not before UT’s Sigma Nu chapter was permanently disbanded.

A rep for Hamm didn’t comment on the incident when it was brought to light in 2015 — and the star himself didn’t give much of a comment to Esquire in the new interview. In addition to his “hit piece” comment, the interviewer noted that he bristled at the topic. When he finally addressed it, he downplayed it as “sensationalized” and called someone being led around “with the claw of a hammer beneath his genitals” a “bummer,” a word he used twice.

“I wouldn’t say it’s accurate,” he told the magazine. “Everything about that is sensationalized. I was accused of these things I don’t… It’s so hard to get into it. I don’t want to give it any more breath. It was a bummer of a thing that happened. I was essentially acquitted. I wasn’t convicted of anything. I was caught up in a big situation, a stupid kid in a stupid situation, and it’s a f**king bummer. I moved on from it.”

Needless to say, the internet has opinions on his bizarre response.

Hamm’s Esquire interview touched on other things, including how he worked as a set dresser for soft-core porn movies when he first moved to Los Angeles and his 2015 breakup with Jennifer Westfeldt after 18 years together.

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