The reaction to Maurkice Pouncey and his twin brother Mike Pouncey’s decision to don baseball caps sporting the phrase “Free Hernandez” has been both swift and harsh. Certainly the photos of the two at a Saturday night party sporting the attire do not reflect kindly upon themselves, nor their organizations. But perhaps we all have jumped to conclusions before getting all of the facts. I, for one, am inclined to give Pouncey the benefit of the doubt upon reflection.
The phrase, of course, is in reference to former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, with whom the Pouncey twins played in college. Mike and Hernandez were roommates, and the three were known to be friends.
In fact, the twins were present during one incident at a nightclub in 2007. A shooting left two men wounded, and Hernandez was briefly questioned by the police, but was not ruled to be a suspect at the time.
Given the history between the three, just about everybody—including myself—immediately jumped to the conclusion that the baseball caps were a demonstration of blind faith in the general goodness of their friend. There is, after all, a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in this country, and one is free to support anybody one chooses.
But yesterday Maurkice issued a public apology for the incident that caused me to view the circumstances in a different light. Here is that statement in full, which was written on his Twitter account:
“I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my actions appear to make light of that serious situation. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions.”
There are two key phrases in this statement that lead me to believe that the hats were not, in fact, a show of support for a friend, but rather a heavy handed attempt at some black humor.
For one, Maurkice says that he apologizes to those who were offended by his actions. Generally, people who are expressing a controversial opinion that they believe enough to display in public are not overly concerned with offending people. Thus, it would not exactly warrant a formal apology.
Secondly, he says that his actions may “appear to make light” of the Hernandez situation; perhaps it was intended to make light of the situation. Perhaps the case against Hernandez, in their eyes, is so damning that to don such a hat would have to be absurd, and thus, in some way, humorous.
It could, too, have tied in to the court ruling that unfolded earlier on that Saturday in the George Zimmerman murder trial. The jury found Zimmerman not guilty on all counts, and he is now a free man. There are many around the country who were baffled by the ruling; perhaps the Pounceys were among them.
Yesterday, I wrote about a Tweet posted, and then quickly deleted, by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, which intimated, essentially, that if Zimmerman was innocent, then perhaps Hernandez is, too.
I joked that, in the spirit of the hats being a reflection of support, it was unlikely that Pouncey saw that Tweet and decided to kick it up a notch. Perhaps he saw it, perhaps not. But it is possible that the hats were a gag in the same, arguably tasteless, vein as Mathieu’s Tweet.
Now, much of what I wrote about the incident yesterday still applies. His behavior, including his poor attempts at humor, are still a reflection upon his employer for which he is responsible. And he still must understand that he lives in a different world as a public figure than the rest of us. And, of course, if he was indeed showing support for Hernandez, he is entitled to do so, if he is willing to accept the consequences. But, in light of his statement, it seems to me that it was just a bad joke that fell flat.