Inside the Case: Hamm Gone Wild, College Edition

Inside the Case: Hamm Gone Wild, College Edition


“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” –Hunter S. Thompson

Jon Hamm is making headlines today for taking part in what’s being reported as “violent college hazing” or what I simply refer to as “being in college.” (Or at least what I vaguely remember of those years.)

Hamm’s University of Texas antics reportedly led to criminal charges, and to the disbanding of his Sigma Nu fraternity chapter there. The allegations from a 1991 civil lawsuit indicate that a fraternity pledge was beaten, dragged around by a hammer, and had his pants lit on fire, and that Hamm participated in this activity “till the very end.” Hamm received a “deferred adjudication” (a way to earn a dismissal of criminal charges upon successful completion of probation) and left school shortly after the incident.

Of course, none of this surfaced at the time, since Hamm was not famous. It was only recently discovered by Star magazine, and is making news now because of the airings of the final episodes of Mad Men, and Hamm recently acknowledging his completion of a stint in rehab.

Although I was (obviously) not a witness to any of Hamm’s alleged misbehavior, this story does inspire a trip down memory lane. My first year of college was at University of Oregon, where the movie Animal House was made. Because I grew sick of the relentless Oregon rain (and because I owed too many drug dealers too much money), I decided to transfer to San Diego to finish out my undergraduate years. That’s where I had my Greek System experience, and just like Jon Hamm, my college fraternity no longer exists. (Though it wasn’t kicked off campus until at least a couple of years after I was.)

Was I on the receiving end of behavior that would be accurately characterized as “hazing” during my fraternity years? Absolutely! Were those humiliating, degrading, exhausting experiences some of the greatest of my life? Emphatically yes! But perhaps that just tells you more about me, and my inappropriate desire for self-degradation, than you needed to know.

It’s often said that “youth is wasted on the young,” and I think that’s especially true for many who are in college. For me, I was ill-equipped to manage all of the freedom I enjoyed at the age of 18. I was already deep into making some really bad life choices by then, so no surprise that my undergraduate experience ended with a letter from the University indicating that they’d try to get along without me. I know some people who grew up in Israel, where there is compulsory military service for a couple of years in between high school and college. That may have helped someone like me (or like Jon Hamm, I suspect).

There’s no question that college fraternities and sororities have had some bad actors and bad actions. Racism, sex crimes, hazing that’s gone so far over the line and caused loss of life. At the same time, while there’s no question we’ve got a long way to go, I hope for the sake of the next generation that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the other direction. Except when my daughter makes it to college. Then, I’m all in favor of chastity belts, study halls, and non-alcoholic beer.

Darren Kavinoky
Follow me