Tarik Black and Jordan Clarkson with fake baby. Photo by LA Lakers/Twitter
So basketball fans are having quite a laugh this week at the expense of Los Angeles Lakers rookies, who have been required to take part in a truly bizarre hazing ritual: They must take baby dolls in toy strollers with them to games all season. And while most have found the idea to be perfectly good fodder for chuckles, I’m actually not finding it funny, because of the subtle yet dangerously outdated message it sends: that being forced to act like a “girl” or a “sissy” — or a caretaker! — makes for seriously embarrassing punishment. And luckily, I’m not alone in my reaction.
“The 1950’s called. They want their ‘hazing’ idea back,” Michael Kasdan, senior sports editor of the Good Men Project, tells Yahoo Parenting. While he’d certainly choose this type of “silly non-violent” hazing over an array of more clearly horrendous forms, he notes, “we also do a disservice to our boys (and to men and women) when we send messages to them that reinforce antiquated notions of gender norms or poke fun at certain behaviors as being girly or sissy. And that’s what’s going on here with the Lakers. It’s immature and its silly, and it has an impact. Taking care of your child, being a dad, that’s the highest form of being a man. True veteran mentors on the Lakers should be teaching these rookies that.”
On a similar note, says filmmaker and father of three Dana Glazer, “It’s not very cool.” In his documentary, “The Evolution of Dad,” Glazer explored what it means to be a contemporary, involved father. “As sports professionals,” he tells Yahoo Parenting, “I think part of their job is to serve as role models for better behavior, which should include promoting involved fatherhood. I know they’re trying to denigrate players here, but the messaging is poor, and showing a lack of understanding of the issues relating to fatherhood…while also adding to the problem of sexism.”
Rob Willer, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University who studies masculinity, adds this: “One thing that is implicit in emasculation of this sort is an expression of disrespect for femininity and girls. You could imagine a sports team hazing its new players by making them dress or act like little boys, but you also would imagine that it wouldn’t be as effective for questioning their manhood.”
Of course, hazing rituals are not uncommon in the NBA or in professional sports across the board, nor are their anti-sissy themes — such as being forced to wear pink pajamas, “girly backpacks,” or Hello Kitty accessories in public. The doll-carrying rule isn’t even entirely unique: Cleveland Cavaliers rookies were hazed in the same manner in 2012. Still, the Lakers provide a rather prominent example of the problematic messaging, particularly since this idea came directly from the Lakers’ head coach Byron Scott.
“Absolutely…” Scott told NBC Sports when asked if the dolls were his idea. “They are in charge of bringing them to every home game, making sure they are right by their locker, that the baby is not crying or anything like that, then after the game take them home. My only concern is they will go in the family room, there are so many kids there they might try to take their babies. So they have to watch their babies, then on game days on the road they have to wear baby backpacks.” Ha ha.
Only John Pacini, cofounder of the Dad 2.0 Summit, which looks at the commercial power of dads online, isn’t laughing. “They’re making a statement that caring for children is something shameful and laughable, and the only thing shameful and laughable is that Byron Scott thinks this is still funny in 2015,” Pacini tells Yahoo Parenting. “The tired stereotype of Mr. Mom, the befuddled guy in the apron who’s embarrassed to be caring for his kids, is history.”
Jeff Perera has spent many years speaking and writing about masculine identity, through his educational Higher Unlearning: A Discussion about Men and Masculinity, and as the community engagement manager for the White Ribbon Project, which promotes a new vision of masculinity to end violence against women and girls. He tells Yahoo Parenting that while he can understand people dismissing the Lakers’ version of hazing as “guys having fun,” he believes it sends a harmful message: “In 2015, the formula for manhood is still to prove you’re not a woman.” Further, he says, “It’s a great example of the way we value women and femininity in society, and the ‘man up’ culture that infests the locker room.”
Perera suggests thinking about the message of the doll rule to both boys and girls who watch sports. “Why do women, girls, and ‘feminine’ men have to be the punch line?” he asks. “And where does the joke end?” Using feminization as an insult to men simply reinforces a cultural perspective that doesn’t value women, “with a little bit of homophobia mixed in,” he notes. Because, he points out, “Little jokes have great meaning.”