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.