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Ditka: Rookie hazing an act of cowards

Saints tight end Cleeland unsure of extent of injury

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Tuesday August 25, 1998 03:57 PM

 

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- New Orleans Saints tight end Cam Cleeland is still uncertain to what extent he was injured in a hazing incident on the last night of training camp.

Cleeland, the Saints' second-round draft pick, was one of a number of rookies who had pillow cases put over their heads and were forced to run a gantlet of veteran players. He was the only one to sustain serious injuries, however.

"My vision is about the same, blurred, and it hurts a lot," Cleeland said Monday. "I saw a specialist on Sunday and he said there is a sac of detached fluid around the retina that's causing the blurriness."

On Monday, the tight end had a CAT scan to determine if a bone around the left eye was broken. Results were not available Monday night.

On Thursday night, the final night of training camp in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the rookies were run down the gantlet in a hall on the third floor of their dorm.

"It's my understanding they were hit, elbowed, kicked, just about everything," Saints general manager Bill Kuharich said.

By the time the pillow case was removed from Cleeland, it was soaked with blood, some players said. He was bleeding from his nose and left eye.

Cleeland was removed from the starting lineup after complaining of blurred vision before Saturday night's exhibition game against the Tennessee Oilers.

Cleeland did not want to talk about the incident and said he did not know which teammates made up the gantlet he was forced to run.

"It goes on everywhere, you just don't hear about it if no one gets hurt," he said. "Obviously, it went a little bit too far this time. But I'm trying to be a member of this team and I don't want to do anything that gets me in wrong with people."

Cleeland's father, Gene, reached at his home in Sedro Woolley, Washington, said if the injury is career-threatening, they would consider a lawsuit.

"Having turned my son over to that organization, I expected them to take care of him," Gene Cleeland said. "From the owner down they had an obligation and they failed."

He said the hazing was brutal and attributed it in part to Cleeland's being slated as a starter. He also said the players involved were black; Cleeland is white.

"This smacks somewhat of reverse racism," Gene Cleeland said. "I'm speaking as a concerned father, but this is a black, inner-city, gang-like response to life, with the attitude that it will make a man of you. It's like a gang initiation.

"Am I making a value judgment? Yes, I am. Am I a racist? No, I am not, but I do truly understand the attitude of the inner-city."

Defensive tackle Jeff Danish, a rookie free agent from Syracuse, was also injured in the incident when his hand went through a window when he tried to stop himself following the run.

Danish, who was not seriously hurt, was waived by the Saints on Monday.

"In all of my days as a player, assistant coach and coach I have never heard of anything like this," coach Mike Ditka said on his radio show following the Tennessee game Saturday. "There are cowards in the world and I told the team that. When you blindfold someone, that's the worst of the coward."  

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Sports Illustrated's 1998 Saints Team Preview
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