Football fans of a certain age will remember Jay Novacek as the infuriatingly dependable third-down target of Troy Aikman on those dominant Cowboys teams of the mid-90s. Novacek retired from football in 1997. His son, Blake Novacek, was also pursuing a career in sports—sports broadcasting, to be exact—before he was involved in a fraternity hazing incident at University of Oklahoma that he says left him with severe and permanent brain damage.
The Dallas Observer has a long story about the incident, which occurred in 2015 and is the subject of litigation against the Oklahoma chapter of Beta Theta Pi. Novacek says soon after the Sooners football team lost to rival Texas in October of that year, he and his fellow pledges were subjected to an especially harrowing night of hazing:
This time, he was blindfolded and a pillowcase was placed over his head.
Novacek says he was ushered up some stairs, then down a hallway, where he heard whimpering and screaming. Alarmed, he took off his pillowcase and peeked under his blindfold to see a pledge on the floor having a panic attack.
Novacek says he was put in a room with one of the fraternity’s older, active members named Shane Muselmann, who Novacek felt “had it in” for him. In the room Novacek says he noted a computer playing a video of pigs being slaughtered, and, ominously, a baseball bat leaning against a chair.
“I was scared,” recalls Novacek, who, to that point, had witnessed member-pledge interactions that were disgusting, disturbing and demeaning, but never physically violent. “I mean, what the heck was that video? It had nothing to do with pledge facts, or anything we’d ever been taught.”
According to Novacek, Muselmann ordered him to put his blindfold and pillowcase back on. That’s when Muselmann swung the bat and hit Novacek in the stomach, just under his ribs. The blow caused him to first lurch backward into the wall, then lose his balance and fall. On the way down, Novacek believes the back of his head smacked into a marble window ledge.
From that time forward Novacek and his friends and family say he’s become a dramatically different person. He struggles with headaches, confusion, loss of memory, anxiety, and depression, a soup of symptoms Novacek associates with the brain injury he says he suffered that night, and which eventually led to him dropping out of college and all but abandoning his dream career. The news from doctors is reportedly pretty terrible:
His speech therapist estimates his vocabulary and quick-recall time have diminished by as much as 84 percent.
His eye doctor predicts his blurred vision is a precursor to his going blind in his left eye.
His neurologist performed a scan that revealed a traumatic brain injury and effects similar to those of an elderly patient with dementia.
Muselmann and Beta Theta Pi deny the hazing incident ever took place, and since, by Novacek’s hazy recollection, only he and his attacker were in the room, it will not be especially easy to prove otherwise. As noted by the Observer, Beta Theta Pi’s University of Oregon chapter was disbanded for hazing in 2016, and as of August 29 three members of its Penn State chapter had pleaded guilty to charges related to the hazing death of a freshman in 2017. The night in question isn’t the only instance of bizarre hazing detailed in the story, which is very sad and very good. You should read the whole thing. Hazing sucks and is for losers.