I heard a story about the early days of Anson Dorrance's tenure at the University of North Carolina that was, as many of these kinds of stories are, probably apocryphal. For those that don't follow US collegiate women's soccer, the Tar Heels bestride the sport like a colossus, having won an incredible 21 of the 31 all-time NCAA women's soccer championships. The maestro of this reign of dominance is Anson Dorrance, the seven-time national coach of the year.
Early on in his tenure, one of his players had a wide-open teammate making a run into the penalty box, but she chose to lay the ball off down the touch-line instead. Dorrance pulled his player to the side later, pointedly asking her why she didn't hit her wide-open teammate. Her response floored him: "Because I don't like her!" Supposedly, Dorrance has worked with each of his teams since then to get the players to at least know each other well, consistently scheduling outings and retreats together, creating time for them to be a family away from the pressures of elite soccer.
That's the eternal challenge of team sports - a group of people are cobbled together with nothing in common but a love for a game and then asked to act as one. It happens gradually and a team creates a strong social circle through the course of a full season together. That social circle has to be expanded every year, however, as new players are added into the mix. The challenge is particularly acute in college sports, where a quarter of the team every year turns over and is replaced with younger, less experienced players. It seems natural to have some kind of annual initiation to affirm that the newcomers are indeed a part of that tight-knit group.
I played on a college club sports team, and our initiation was almost hilariously innocuous - new players had to take the equipment home to their dorm rooms and bring it back for the next practice, since we didn't have any permanent place to house it. Carrying the equipment was a pain, to be sure, but the most important feature was that it meant that the rookies had to come to the next practice. In a low-commitment team where practice attendance was sometimes lackluster, that was a significant benefit.
All of this is to say that initiation into a team has a place - it helps players get to know each other away from the game so that they can play better together. I think that it's fair to allow players to organize these initiations and hold them accountable for ensuring that they don't cross the line. Treating them like ignorant naifs that can't tell the difference between full-blown hazing and a more innocuous initiation ritual just encourages those that enjoy hazing new players to do so with more extreme measures in secret.
Now, all this brings us to the bizarre Vine that's circled the internet of Anthony Davis apparently being hazed in a locker room while at Kentucky. It's gotten a ton of traction on the internet, probably in equal parts because of the Miami Dolphins hazing saga and because Davis has established himself as an emerging star in the young season.
For those that don't want to watch the Vine, which is reasonable, I'll give you a quick description: a completely naked Anthony Davis is being held down to the ground with his backside to the ceiling, laughing while half-heartedly struggling to get away as the player holding him down uses his free hand to slap his butt. As Davis looks at the camera, the video then zooms into his face, and he mugs for the camera.
Leaving aside the bizarrely homophobic comments that the video has spawned - it is the internet, after all - I think this is a pretty clear example of hazing that crosses the line. It seems in the video like Davis thinks the incident is hilarious, since he's laughing and mugging for the camera, but there's no way for the perpetrators to be sure that it's not a deeply scarring experience for the one being hazed. The person that's being hazed has no power in this scenario and is unable to even give consent - he's forced into the naked butt-slapping by the social pressures of the team and he has no realistic option to leave the situation if he wished to do so. And, most importantly, a reasonable person could absolutely find that situation humiliating, embarrassing, and traumatizing.
Now, many of those that haze players would certainly say that they know the players well enough to be sure that they will take the light-hearted abuse in stride. But here's the rub: if they already know the freshman so well as to make such a personal decision for him, how could some kind of initiation possibly make them any closer?
In the wake of the Richie Incognito saga, the NBA sent out a memo to each of the teams in the Association reminding them of the league's existing hazing policy. The memo conveniently highlighted that the policy specifically bans everything Incognito is accused of doing. Most folks in the league seem to say that hazing isn't an issue in the NBA, but many folks in the NFL still think that what Incognito did doesn't constitute a problem. And if hazing is happening at Kentucky, where pretty much every single player is a freshman, then it's hard to imagine that it's not widespread in basketball culture, too.