EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jared Allen was a fourth-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004, coming out of small school Idaho State and going to a team coached by Dick Vermeil.
Allen was treated like any other rookie, even though he was making lower-end rookie money based on his status as a fourth-round pick. Allen said he’s heard stories of rookies being forced to pay for team dinners costing as much as $60,000 before the collective bargaining agreement changed the scale of rookie contracts.
The rookie meals Allen was responsible for were a different challenge.
“I can remember they forced me to drive like 20 miles outside of the way to go to one Popeye’s chicken before every flight,” Allen said. “I was a fourth-rounder and I had to buy chicken every single day, dang near missing planes. So the level of degrees have varied, but as a rookie I always looked at it as a rite of passage into the fraternity of the NFL.”
Adrian Peterson, a former No. 7 overall pick by the Vikings and the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2007, had a different transition to the NFL.
“They hung me upside down,” Peterson said. “They really didn’t do much to me. Chester Taylor, he was cool. I carried a helmet or shoulder pad from time to time. But after those guys saw me in training camp, they really weren’t trying to bother me too much. I think I earned their respect rather quickly.”
The rite of passage, rookie initiation, or hazing has changed over the years. Allen said the Vikings don’t challenge rookies the same way he was forced to endure with the Chiefs 10 years ago.
The issue is still prevalent in the NFL if the situation in Miami is any sign. Second-year tackle Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins over reports of bullying and harassment, and the team later suspended veteran guard Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team.
Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier saw some of the same things as Allen back in his playing days with the Chicago Bears. But after years playing and coaching, he believed the rituals were counterproductive. When he became the Vikings’ permanent coach in 2011, he implemented a no-hazing policy.
“Just as a former player and seeing what guys experienced who were hazed and then as a coach witnessing guys that were being hazed and the effect it had on them,” Frazier said of his reasoning. “I just didn’t want that to be a part of what we were trying to do once I became a head coach. I just didn’t see the benefit of it when it comes to wins and losses. I have no regrets about that.
“I had some veterans who tried to talk me out of it. I don’t think that helps you to win games from my vantage point. Everybody has their way of doing things. Those guys that you’re messing with are guys that we’re counting on to help us to win. You want the right chemistry in the locker room, as well. I just didn’t see the plusses to doing it.”
One of those veterans might have been Allen.
Minnesota has been known to have rookies sing their college fight song in the cafeteria during training camp, but one instance of dealing with a rookie became public in training camp in 2012. Several Vikings veterans, including Allen, tied undrafted rookie defensive tackle Chase Baker to a goal post and poured Pepto Bismol and Gatorade on him.
“Yeah, I got scolded for that, so we’re not allowed to do that anymore,” Allen said Tuesday.
The subject has taken increased sensitivity and scrutiny in the past week in light of the situation Miami is dealing with. Frazier tries to end any issues before they start by telling the team to not haze rookies.
“Oh yeah, going back to when we get into training camp,” Frazier said. “We go through things that you can and can’t do, and that’s on our list of things we’re not going to do. When we come to training camp, talk about dos and don’ts, that’s one of them not to do with our rookies.”
Allen said the league is different than when he entered and said sometimes he gets “a little nostalgic” and believes something could be lost without the ability to demonstrate the hierarchy of an NFL locker room.
“From a player’s standpoint, I think some of the younger guys come in and there’s a sense of entitlement, and you lose that work ethic, you lose that true veteran-led locker room sometimes,” Allen said. “You got to know who you’re dealing with. You can’t treat everyone the same. You can’t treat every rookie the same. Some guys are more sensitive than others, but it’s a sign of respect.
“We do little things like, ‘Go get me coffee.’ Nothing too crazy, but I appreciate it going through that because I had the respect of the vets. Then, when it’s your turn, you don’t feel so bad giving it to someone else.”
Frazier relies on his veteran leaders, Allen and Peterson among them, to keep him informed on the circumstances that could develop in the locker room.
“The communication part of it here is what’s important,” Frazier said. “Some things I won’t necessarily know about, but I hope that I’ll be clued in on what’s necessary. Having good leadership to keep me involved in the things that might contradict what we want to get done and what we want to project as a team.”