Jon Hamm on the Violent Hazing That Shuttered His Fraternity: 'It Was a Bummer of a Thing That Happened'


Over at Esquire, a new profile of handsome, lantern-jawed actor Jon Hamm covers a lot of ground, touching on yet also glossing over his involvement in a vicious and violent fraternity hazing incident at the University of Texas in 1990.

Hamm’s involvement in the hazing was so severe that it caused the University of Texas’s Sigma Nu chapter to shut down completely. The story resurfaced in 2015, just before the final season of Mad Men, the show that piloted Hamm to fame. From the AP in 2015:

According to the lawsuit, Hamm became “mad, I mean really mad” after the 20-year-old Sigma Nu pledge failed to recite things he was supposed to memorize about Hamm and other fraternity members. For Hamm, his list included “Young Bobby,” ″MC Hammer” and “UT Football Punching Bag.”
The pledge, Mark Allen Sanders, said Hamm went on to set his jeans on fire, shove his face in dirt and strike him with a paddle.
“He rears back and hits me left-handed, and he hit me right over my right kidney, I mean square over it,” Sanders said in the lawsuit. “Good solid hit and that, that stood me right up.”

In addition to these abuses, People also reported that Sanders, the pledge in question, was led around the frat house “with the claw of a hammer beneath his genitals.” The lawsuit was filed in 1991, which happens to be the same year Hamm dropped out of college and moved back home to Missouri, following the death of his father. Hamm and his fellow fraternity brothers were charged with hazing in 1993 and eventually received probation.

From the Esquire profile, written by Maxmilian Potter :

When I bring up the incident, which was reported in Texas newspapers at the time and resurfaced in 2015, first in the tabloids and then in The Washington Post, Hamm bristles. He tells me, “I wouldn’t say it’s accurate. Everything about that is sensationalized. I was accused of these things I don’t… It’s so hard to get into it. I don’t want to give it any more breath. It was a bummer of a thing that happened. I was essentially acquitted. I wasn’t convicted of anything. I was caught up in a big situation, a stupid kid in a stupid situation, and it’s a fucking bummer. I moved on from it.”

According to the lawsuit, the pledge in question alleged that Hamm was the one who allegedly inflicted most of the damage. Hamm’s answer regarding the allegations and the lawsuit is cagey. While it’s clear that he’s attempting to move forward from something terrible that happened in his past, he declines to directly confront what is essentially public knowledge (court records for the case were never sealed). It’s understandable (though maybe not relatable) to be swept up in the mob mentality that college breeds—fraternities bank on this, marketing it as “unity” and “brotherhood”—but the “I was young” excuse only works alongside contrition and some acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

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