The Brothers Pouncey went out to a club this past weekend with Free Hernandez hats on, which was ill-advised, and then allowed themselves to be photographed looking like a pair of beefy, scotch-eyed Drake enthusiasts, flippantly voicing their support for Aaron Hernandez, who seems not to be a great guy. The photo wound up on Deadspin very quickly, because that is the exact sort of thing that ends up on Deadspin very quickly. Backlash was equally swift, and Maurkice Pouncey has since attached his name to a non-apology most likely written by some Steelers PR flack. I'm sure we'll forget about the incident soon enough, though. Seriously, athletes and people in general: If you want to argue for the innocence of a friend who has been charged with murder, do so carefully. In other words, don't put a slogan on a hat and then go get drunk.
Some media types have been keeping a close eye on what NFL players have said over the past few weeks about the Hernandez saga, presumably waiting for someone to do something uncouth. What this has wrought is a bunch of articles and blog posts about the uninteresting things players have been tweeting. The most egregious one I could find is Houston Texans running back Ben Tate making a (since-deleted) half-joke about lawyer fees, which is tame, and which he followed up with condolences for Odin Lloyd's family. Most of the stuff out there is blandly respectful -- prayers all around, etc. The Pouncey brothers' screw-up was, finally, an excuse for some blowhard sports columnist in Pittsburgh to chide someone, because being paternalistic and incredulous about rich twentysomethings occasionally making mistakes is apparently still a viable career.
You knew someone was going to write that article once the pictures were tweeted out, because some people think sportswriting is professional wrestling in dad jeans. Someone had to play the role of morally outraged dolt, and, well, here's our dolt. The facile point-counterpoint, loud-as-possible model that modern sports media employs angers me, but only because I care about sports and how they're covered, which ultimately is a frivolous thing. When huffy writer-types and yawping pundits are grandstanding like campaigning senators about how some unfortunate athlete lacks the clutch gene or whatever, they're doing so within the relatively safe confines of sports talk. But when the same sort of bloviate-first, ruminate-never approach is applied to something like an alleged murder, we all suffer.
The facts of the Hernandez case get buried beneath a donut-crumb avalanche of unfounded conjecture and unneeded opinions. We end up with Peter King dispensing sage advice, like maybe don't draft players coached by Urban Meyer. (Because they might kill someone, Peter?) We get an ESPNBoston article wherein Herm Edwards absolves the Patriots of blame, concluding with, "Do you agree?" because, I guess, "Do you think it's the Patriots' fault Aaron Hernandez might have murdered someone?" was too truthful. We get Mike Florio being superciliously Mike Florio-ish, speaking in legalese about asset optimization and why the Pats might cut Alfonzo Dennard after a DUI arrest. I'm not sure if this sentence -- "the Hernandez precedent technically applies only to employees arrested in connection with a murder" -- is meant to be at all glib, which would be kind of awful, but the alternative is that Florio's heart is made out of crumpled up tax forms.
Worst of all, we have to endure "First Take" segments like this one, in which the pertinent question is whether or not the Patriots made a mistake in drafting and extending Aaron Hernandez, as if his alleged transgressions were a sort of moral ACL tear. Skip Bayless, arguing that the Patriots have been "Raiders East" over the past half-decade, runs down a list of guys who have never been chief suspects in murder cases. Chad Johnson is an annoyance, and his wife left him last year following accusations of domestic violence, but to my knowledge, he has never been accused of orchestrating an execution. I'm sure everyone else involved in Bayless' off-hand list of Bad Guys enjoyed being lumped in with a suspected murderer, who, by the way, hasn't been convicted of anything, which means it's still a whit early to start calling Hernandez "soulless" and "a sociopath." Then Stephen A. Smith brings the real talk about tattoos -- proof that you can make anything, even an NFL player allegedly shooting someone five times until they stopped breathing, into a discussion about scary, scary tattoos and the evil people who wear them.
What we require, when dealing with a topic as grave as this, are not jesters and accusers and macrobrew-branded six-packs of questions. We need information, and we need people who can take the information and make sense of it. Take, as an example, this piece from Sally Jenkins, which examines how Hernandez's arrest advances the misperception that NFL players are violent and savage. Or the fact-heavy yeoman's work the folks over at "Outside the Lines" have done on Hernandez's possible involvement in a 2007 shooting. This is not easy stuff to produce. It takes time and thought and research. It's much easier, I suppose, to speak off-the-cuff about the matter, to qualify your hot-faced nonsense with a disclaimer -- this is obviously a sensitive issue, and we want to be mindful of that, however ... -- and then go on and burn like the idiot nebula you are.
This is all theater, and theatrics are useless when discussing a tragedy. Murder cases, as they unfold, do not exist for your entertainment. Morbid fascination is natural, but you have to understand -- because you are a human being that gives even the slightest of cares about other human beings -- that someone has died, and that another person may be going to jail for a long time. This will, if you can remember it, keep you from treating a criminal investigation as though it were a game or a spectacle.
The clown pundits par excellence at CNN spent the past few weeks ignoring this simple fact, vulturing every last non-insight and emotionally provocative soundbite they could from a racially charged ordeal that ended with a not-guilty verdict, thousands of people taking to the streets in peaceful protest, and a few scattered, disturbing calls for vigilante justice. Even when CNN makes a token attempt at elevated discussion, it produces a headline like "N-Word vs. Cracker: Which is Worse?" which basically assures that we can all ignore CNN until it decides to be an actual news organization.
Initial indications are that the sports media establishment is going to circus-up this Hernandez case, the same way CNN did the George Zimmerman trial. That simple-minded sports infotainment makes us dumber is a problem, but it's a somewhat innocuous one. If mainstream sports media thinks bluster, feigned outrage and unfounded theories from loud-mouthed doofs is what we want, then I suppose I can't stop them from selling it to us. (It's lucrative, I guess. Colin Cowherd is a millionaire.) But speaking extemporaneously and reductively about a murder investigation does actual harm, because it makes some of us believe that the world is uncomplicated, that every topic can be crammed into a template, as if Embrace Debate were the One True Epistemological Tool. It gives us an excuse to not think hard about something horrific and our reaction to it. It gives the impression that the most immediate and most assertive opinion is always right.
The Hernandez case is about gun culture, violence, masculinity and race, and how we perceive our athletes as people. It is only kind of about football and hardly at all about the Patriot Way or salary cap holds. We have to talk about this like adults with the capacity to consider and learn, because if we reach the wrong conclusions -- that NFL players are thugs, that an athlete is a quantity, that we don't need to examine our attitudes towards guns -- it will impoverish us. I'm imploring you, Baylessian masses: Stop using your stupid jock-scribe parlance to talk about Aaron Hernandez. You are polluting conversations that matter.