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Tuesday, August 25, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Cleeland's Father, Ditka Blast Saints About Hazing

The AP

NEW ORLEANS - Tight end Cam Cleeland, the New Orleans Saints' second-round draft pick from Washington, was subjected to a brutal hazing last week at training camp, one his father suggested was race related.

Cleeland was removed from the starting lineup of an exhibition game Saturday against Tennessee after complaining of blurred vision from a swollen left eye.

"My vision is about the same, blurred, and it hurts a lot," Cleeland, an All-Pac-10 selection last season, said yesterday. "I saw a specialist on Sunday, and he said there is a sack of detached fluid around the retina that's causing the blurriness."

Cleeland was injured Thursday, the final night of training camp in La Crosse, Wis.

General Manager Bill Kuharich said all the rookies had pillow cases placed over their heads and were forced to run a gantlet of players in the third-floor hallway of the players' dormitory. "It's my understanding they were hit, elbowed, kicked, just about everything," Kuharich said.

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

"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, called the hazing 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.

Defensive tackle Jeff Danish, a rookie free agent from Syracuse, also was injured in the incident when his hand went through a window as he tried to stop himself after the run. Danish, who was not seriously hurt, was waived yesterday.

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

Ditka, who said he had asked his players not to haze rookies, was also upset that the ringleaders in the incident had not come forward and admitted it as he asked.

"If I knew who they were, I'd fine the heck out of them and probably try to get them off the team," Ditka said.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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