A Final Word On Maurkice Pouncey

By Matthew Marczi

Normally I would not dedicate so much time to a matter that I do not consider directly to be a football issue; however, given the quantity and intensity of the reactions that my article from Tuesday generated, I think it is appropriate to perform a bit of cleanup duty. In this article, I would like to clarify, elaborate on, and correct a few things that I’ve written, and it will serve as my final word on the matter unless new developments arise.

Three days ago, I wrote about the decision of Maurkice Pouncey and his twin brother Mike Pouncey to don baseball caps with the phrase “Free Hernandez” clearly stitched on them. At the time, I immediately assumed, given what I knew of their prior history with Aaron Hernandez, that it was a show of support for their friend.

Yesterday, however, I speculated that that may not be the case, and in doing so, I elicited a great deal of strong reactions. After re-reading my own piece in light of the responses, I came to the conclusion that I somewhat misrepresented my opinion, and I would like to correct that now.

In my previous article, I said that I believe that the Pounceys’ caps were a gag gone wrong. This is not exactly the case. In my overzealousness to try to represent a more complete visualization of the situation, I ended up overstating the matter.

My desire on this site is to remain as objective as possible, and when I present matters of opinion, I strive to support my beliefs with facts. It is not my position to weigh in on this particular issue on my own moral standards, and thus, it is not my concern to condemn or defend anybody.

What I have attempted to do is to piece together all of the stray variables of the incident. The truth of the matter is that I do not know, nor have a clear opinion on, what the Pouncey twins think of the Hernandez case, nor why they chose to wear those hats.

What I do know is that I have seen the phrase “Free Hernandez” before.

After all, if you search the hashtag #FreeHernandez on Twitter, you will see a barrage of comments and images pertaining to Hernandez, using sarcasm and parody to make light of the situation. These comments go back as far as his initial suspicion for the crime in the hours following the murder.

Take this image, for instance, which is mocking an image obtained by TMZ of Hernandez posing in a self-portrait, presumably in his own bathroom, holding a firearm. The image of Hernandez was also appropriated for mocking and ridicule, with people reposting the image while feigning support, as in this example. There is even a Tweet under the hashtag suggesting that Tim Tebow framed Hernandez.

So the term “Free Hernandez” has been circulating longer than he has even been detained. In all honesty, it would not surprise me if hats with the phrase already existed beforehand; there are shirts, in fact. Now, this does not necessarily mean anything one way or the other, but it does help to enlighten the discussion.

In my eyes, there are three reasonable explanations for the Pounceys’ choice of attire this past Saturday night at their birthday party celebration. As I’ve written, it is possible that, even though he is, or perhaps was, their good friend, the hats were simply a gag, an unknowing continuation of the satire and mockery that has run rampant upon social media for the past month.

Otherwise, it was a true, honest to goodness display of support for their friend. This, however, is divided into two categories—one reflecting nescience, the other more worrying. If it was an earnest gesture, then it could have simply been a display of loyalty, and a belief in his general decency—or at least a disbelief in his alleged heinousness.

Otherwise, the intent behind the attire would be unsettling. It would mean that they understand the seriousness of the crime that he is alleged to have committed, that they figure, like nearly everybody else, that he is probably guilty, and that they still do not care.

The Pouncey brothers were recently accused of being ‘pawns’ in a ‘twisted rap game’, according to a new article by Jason Whitlock. He writes that their nightclub antics were “straight from the in-your-face, shock-value, prison culture/hip hop culture playbook”, adding that “it screams the Pounceys place no value on Odin Lloyd’s life. He’s just another dead N-word who got his cap peeled by a homie”.

Whitlock says that it rings a familiar note echoed in today’s commercial rap music, and he says that the Pounceys are ignorantly complicit in a culture that they do not fully understand. “The Pounceys have only swallowed a tiny bit of the bait”, he wrote, “but they’ve swallowed enough to think it’s cool and appropriate to support an alleged murderer with hats that trivialize the death of a 27-year-old black man”.

There are a couple of things that are wrong with this. For one, it makes numerous assumptions about the Pounceys. And for another, if the Pounceys actually believe that Hernandez is innocent, then the hat has nothing to do with Lloyd—and thus does not trivialize his death—but rather has everything to do with Hernandez. If that is the case, then they were in fact taking the situation very seriously. Being falsely accused of murder is no small thing.

But more importantly, Whitlock’s speculation here deflects true personal responsibility. Whatever the Pounceys did, they did because they chose to do it, not because they were influenced to do it by some corrupt culture. One can be born within a specific culture, but there are infinite opportunities to transcend that culture.

With that said, this third hypothetical, while not outside the realm of possibility, does not seem to be particularly likely. There have never been any substantiated rumors or anything significant that would tie Pouncey or his brother to any sort of criminal behavior, after all.

For one thing, while the Pounceys and Hernandez were known to be good friends in college, it seems that the brothers had the same perception of him as did the majority of his New England Patriots teammates: that he was a loner and a homebody. Pouncey had said that he tried to get Hernandez out of the house and do something regularly without much success, saying that he never does anything.

That does not sound like somebody that is involved in shared criminal activities. That does not sound like somebody that is aware of Hernandez’s ‘other’ life. In fact, it does not sound like somebody that was in Hernandez’s true confidence. It seems that Hernandez’s off-field excursions rarely crossed paths with his day job.

In light of that, there is not enough substantial evidence at this time to really give much weight to this final argument. Not that that has stopped people from accusing him of being a gangbanger, citing his ‘gang’ tattoos. You know, like the “Chosen One” adorning the inside of his upper arms, or the area code of his hometown (because athletes never embrace their team’s area code—412, anyone?).

What about the “Mind on a Million” tattoo emblazoned on his chest, beneath the “est. 1989” ink? Maybe it’s the “Blessed” tattoo running down from his left wrist up to his elbow, or the praying hands on his left biceps. No, it must be the portraits of his mother and step-father. Even Hernandez’s tattoos turned up no gang ties.

Given the evidence currently at hand, circumstantial or otherwise, the only thing Maurkice Pouncey is guilty of at the moment is not understanding his public stature. Either he brazenly displayed his support for a friend charged with murder, or he participated in a naïve, off-color joke, but whichever it is, he did so evidently without concern for how it would be received by others. While he is entitled to engage in either activity, he must understand the consequences.

Until Pouncey ever makes a public statement about Hernandez, it will remain unclear what he thinks of the matter. Is he loyal to a fault? Is he distancing himself with mocking derision? Or is he part of Whitlock’s “prison culture” that sees the murder of Lloyd as a business matter?

Once training camp starts up, the reality is that most fans and media will collectively move past this incident, beyond the initial questions that Pouncey is sure to be asked. By then, there will be more important football matters to cover, and I, for one, will be thankful to move on to discuss more interesting topics.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • mem359

    Thanks for adding context to the “Free Hernandez” comment. That does show why the “satire” option is at least plausible.

  • GH05T

    thanks for the clairIification but i still feel it was just poor judgement on the pounceys part nothing more sinister than that

  • Shea Fahr

    Good article Matt. The great thing about Steelers Depot is that we all can express our opinion on matters..whether we agree with one another or not. With 8 days left until the Steelers report, it will be nice to move on and start discussing more position battles. Moving on….

  • steeltown


  • VaDave

    That was a really nice piece of journalism there Matt. Great job. Too bad our national media hacks aren’t near as good.

  • JohnnyV1

    Thankfully training camp starts soon. As Shea Fahr said “moving on…”

  • Rosco

    Why are the Pouncey Twins getting more flack then Josh Brent still being a cowboy?

  • walter mason

    Good piece, as usual. I am a bit surprised that the Steelers have not made a statement. I think its because they see this as no big deal.

    I still dont buy the satire theory. But its certainly possible that the Pounceys were naive and unaware of Hernendez’s secret life. If you look over the cell phone texts confiscated by police, it appears there were prior dealings of some sort between Hernendez and Odin Lloyd and he was killed because he didnt have the money or the product.. The sinister execution was a business matter and Odin Lloyd was not an innocent bystander. Of course that doesnt excuse the violent crime but its certainly possible that the Pounceys were completely unaware to what was going on. Hernendez may have called the Pounceys his “best friends” because they gave him respectability or were the only straight, good guys he associated with. Maybe the only ones who really cared or counted. The Pounceys may have given Hernendez his best chance to escape the gangster lifestyle… …but he was in too deep to get out. For some reason he couldnt break away.

    Keep in mind being drafted by New England put Hernendez right back near his home turf. There of those that surmise Hernendez could have turned his life around if he was drafted by a city far away from his roots. I cant help but wonder why Hernendez would continue dealing when he no longer needed anything or anybody.. I guess old habits are hard to break.

    We may not get these answers until after the trial. I hope the fans will forgive Pouncey and just as important, I hope Pouncey will forgive the fans that jumped to conclusions.

  • MP34

    When I was a teenager, I went on a ride at Cedar Point with a friend who was a Bills fan. We held up a sign on the ride that said “FREE OJ” at the area where the camera snaps your photo. I was 19. Neither of us supported OJ, nor did we think it was a big deal. The people at the photo counter just laughed. Being older now, I think what the Pouncey’s did was dumb, but it could be no different than what we did. Kids trying to be funny. I’d like to believe it was nothing more than that.

  • Matthew Marczi

    That’s an interesting point about Hernandez being dumped right back into his own stomping grounds. Perhaps in a new environment he could have exited that lifestyle. Although, remember, there were also a few incidents in Florida while he was in college, too, so maybe he would have just found new connections.

    It’s fascinating to me that, despite the life-changing nature of the profession in terms of economic opportunity, a lot of athletes from poor backgrounds in violent neighborhoods continue to embrace the culture in which they were raised. Remember Michael Vick? I can’t remember who, but I recall some other player making a comment that you’d be surprised how many athletes involved in dog fighting rings, or something like that. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of professional athletes have some type of these dubious underground ‘business ventures’. Football is just a job for some of these guys; they’re really the same person they’ve always been, just with more money. Giving a guy millions of dollars and putting him on tv clearly doesn’t change who he is.

  • joed32

    Matt, I think that maybe you should drop this topic, you can’t change peoples minds on this , all you can do is make people angry at you since they’re already angry at Pouncy. Defending what he did isn’t a cause that you should stick your neck out for. Some will agree with you and some will dislike you for it. Just let it go.

  • Bob Loblaw

    Steelers haven’t made a statement because it’s the type of thing most people will forget in three weeks. They want this to be forgotten immediately because even speaking out against this draws more negative attention than simply being quiet. It’s either let people forget about it, or they make a statement and find themselves back on the front page of ESPN.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I suppose I can see how you would think that, but here are a few things about this article:

    This was not written to defend anybody, and I don’t believe that I did. I tried to look at the situation objectively. I have no interest in defending or condemning people in my articles.

    Also, this was written two days ago, it was only posted today. I already have a new article up today as well.

  • joed32

    You can write whatever you choose to about it but it won’t win you any fans and could lose you some. Objectivity is a good thing but sometimes it’s not want people want to hear. I haven’t commented about it anywhere. I have my opinion as does everyone else but I’ll keep it to myself. If you don’t mind the flak then keep writing about it. Just trying to point out that it’s a hot topic and lots of readers are passionate about it on both sides.

  • walter mason

    He said it was the final word. So hopefully it will die out as far as the Pounceys are concerned.. Myself I have a funny feeling there is more to the Hernendez story and its possible he will be out of prison in just a few years (for manslaughter)…

  • Matthew Marczi

    Thank you, Joe, for your input here, I appreciate your perspective. I definitely understand that some things that I write are not necessarily what some people want to hear, especially when it comes to topics like this. And I know that maybe that will leave a bad taste in a couple mouths the next time an article of mine comes along. I do try to take that into consideration, but, ultimately, I do write the pieces that I believe in, regardless of whether or not I think I might get some backlash for it, and I think it’s important to do that, because when you’re worried about what people are going to think, you’re not focused on writing the best article you can. With that said, it has been great, the past month and a half or so, to be able to write for an audience like this, and I appreciate the fact that people are willing to respond both positively and negatively to my articles, and, for the most part, do so respectfully.

    I think part of the reason that I try to stay objective, especially on topics like these, is exactly for the reason you said, that lots of readers are passionate about it on both sides. I don’t want to jump in on one side and alienate the other, so I try to stick with the facts. Anyway, as Walter said below me, I did write this one to hopefully be the last word on the topic before we move on to other things, and I’m glad for it, because as I wrote, I like to stick with football, and not this extracurricular stuff, as I think we all do. This piece is already two days, and two articles, behind me as it is!

  • Matthew Marczi

    Apparently he just “retired” today…

  • JC

    I live in Florida and have seen a few people wearing Free Hernandez hats out at bars and clubs. Many of these people wear the hat as a trendy fashion statement or simply for shock value. It’s ignorant people that are simply trying to draw attention while unknowingly making light of a serious situation and unfortunately Pouncey is no different. Hopefully he understands that unlike the average Joe who is wearing that hat, people will actually take notice if an NFL athlete is wearing it. He’s representing not only himself but the Steelers as well.

  • joed32

    Thanks for the reply. I’m on your side and if I criticize anything it’s meant to try to be helpful and constructive. The good thing is that in another week you guys will have some actual football to write about. This is going to be a fun camp and preseason with so many questions to be answered.

  • walter mason

    Myself I am still sickened over this event but Im sure in time I will become interested again in Steeler football. But not today.

  • walter mason

    I live in South Florida as well and its a cesspool. As far as I know, Mike never even bothered to apologize.

  • James Nicholson

    I’m sad
    and afraid that one of the last honorable sports franchises is selling
    out. There used to be the day where the
    Eric Greens’s and Bam Morris’s were let go for questionable behavior and the
    Steelers clearly had more emphasis on character than production.

    extension for Pouncey makes me cringe to think what will happen next. Suck it up Rooney Jr and don’t denigrate your
    family’s legacy.