WASHINGTON — Maybe it wasn’t technically hazing, but the Washington Wizards took locker room behavior to a new low when Gilbert Arenas brought in guns to escalate a spat with a younger teammate.
Ted Leonsis wants to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.
In the wake of the ongoing scandal involving the Miami Dolphins, the Wizards and Capitals owner on Tuesday gave his thoughts on hazing in an interview with writers and editors from The Associated Press.
“I have very, very strong opinions, both personally but also what I’ve learned professionally, and I think you’ve seen that redolent in what we’ve done now with the Wizards,” Leonsis said. “Character really, really matters.”
Arenas is long gone, as well as a few other players who brought down the maturity level of a franchise that wasn’t winning anyway. The current roster is still trying to win, but there’s no been major off-court issues involving a squad led by John Wall, Bradley Beal and Nene.
“Today the Wizards as a team are filled with very, very high-caliber people and veterans who welcome rookies because they know it’s an integral part of our strategy,” Leonsis said. “There is code around rookies and rookie hazing, but it usually goes to ‘You’re going to buy somebody a dinner,’ or ‘You’re going to be the one who drives the vet to the airport.’
“Culturally I don’t think present-day that kind of hazing (that happened in Miami) could happen in the Capitals or the Mystics or the Wizards locker room. And I think that it’s incumbent upon owners and coaches and general managers to create an environment to bring players in to know what’s expected of them and what’s unacceptable behavior.”
Four players – Joel Ward, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Karl Alzner – were recently asked about hazing within the Capitals’ locker room, and none of their responses veered beyond the traditional annual rookie dinner, in which first-year players have to pitch in to pay for one meal for all the team’s veterans.
Here are five other topics addressed by Leonsis during his 90-minute sit-down with the AP:
NAME GAME: Leonsis knows what it’s like to hear people calling for a nickname change, so he’s not about to weigh in on the current debate as to whether NFL owner Dan Snyder should ditch “Redskins” to appease those who find it offensive.
“I really need to cop out. I just think it’s an unfair question to ask another owner to weigh in on their name,” Leonsis said.
Leonsis’ predecessor, Abe Pollin, changed the NBA team’s name to Wizards because of the violent connotation of the previous name, Bullets. Many fans would like to go back to the old name.
“I live daily with this back-and-forth with pundits and with some fans about changing the name,” Leonsis said. “And I’ve been steadfast in that I don’t even think that’s an appropriate thing to consider right now for numerous reasons, but mostly because we have so much work to do and there are so many issues in front of the Wizards to build a great franchise, to build a great team.”
FIGHTING WORDS: Leonsis said Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ray Emery didn’t “follow the code” when picking a fight with Capitals counterpart Braden Holtby during a recent game. The incident has renewed calls for the NHL to find ways to curb fighting or ban it altogether.
“The league has to look at the issue because there is no specific rule about a goaltender leaving the crease and instigating a fight,” Leonsis said. “And I’m sure that the league and the general managers and the union will decide what to do. … There is a group of fans that believe it is an integral part of the game, but only if the ‘code’ is followed.
“The ‘code’ is important. Heavyweights fight heavyweights. Middleweights fight middleweights. There’s a discussion before there’s a fight. Players police that. I think the league is trying to find ways to keep the ‘code’ but be tighter on fighting for the safety of the players.”
JASON COLLINS: Collins hasn’t found NBA work since his groundbreaking announcement that he is gay, his contract having expired with the Wizards on July 1.
That’s hardly surprising. Collins is about to turn 35, his best years well behind him.
“I think it has to do with team needs and the like, and he’s an older player,” Leonsis said. “But Jason Collins as a player was respected. He was a great locker room presence.”
Leonsis reflected on his reaction when he heard that Collins was coming out.
“I said ‘great.’ I’m supportive and that’s fantastic and good for you and very brave and courageous, but it doesn’t really to matter to me because you were a great player,” Leonsis said. “If we needed a backup player and we had space — we don’t, we have 15 players under contract — he’d be a great addition to our team or any team in the NBA.”
ALL THOSE NCAA RULES: Leonsis is more opinionated about the need for an overhaul in college athletics, suggesting that perhaps it’s time to pay student-athletes.
“I do think that the NCAA system across sports needs a reboot and a rethinking,” he said. “Some of it because of the unfairness of it, how much revenue and how much reputational enhancement these young men and women bring to the universities. … But also the flipside when there’s some of these penalties.”
Leonsis, for example, is on the board of directors of Georgetown University, which plays its men’s basketball games at his arena.
“I’ve been told and trained — never give a ticket to a family member of a Georgetown basketball player,” he said. “That, to me, seems unreasonable.”
BOBBLING STERN: Leonsis has nothing but praise for retiring NBA Commissioner David Stern — and has the bobblehead to prove it.
Leonsis received a Stern bobblehead at the roast that was part of Stern’s last owners’ meeting, but dropped it on the floor after arriving back home. Leonsis called the league office and asked for a replacement, and it’s sitting on his desk.
“It serves as a conscience,” Leonsis said, “to have that bobblehead doll.”
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