If you’re an NFL player, you must want to punch Aaron Hernandez in his dumb-sullen jaw for making his face into the face of the league. If you have any kind of pride in your profession, you must want to shove him in the tattooed chest, with the florid stupidities etched on it, and tell him to quit spilling his ink all over you and your teammates.
Appearances matter, not as a moral issue but from a purely practical standpoint. That’s the lesson to take from Hernandez’s self-portrait as a pop-style killer with a dead jailhouse gaze, one dangerously in love with his muscled-up arms. If he’s innocent, good luck proving it to the masses and a jury. It would be nice to say Hernandez’s appearance in court is his problem and his alone, but it isn’t. It has become the problem of every guy he played with or against because Hernandez has convinced many people, Geraldo Rivera and Rush Limbaugh among them, that the NFL wittingly harbors gang executioners.
A judge denied former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez bail in the murder case against him.
Hernandez’s example has become Exhibit A for braying commentators who have painted the entire league in stigmas as crude as snake and dagger tattoos. Rivera denounced the league’s “jungle ethos” and — incredibly — described NFL players as “fatherless” products recruited from the “inner city” in need of “minders.” Actually, Hernandez was not fatherless, and he’s from middle-class Connecticut suburbs, not the inner city, and we all know what that 1970s euphemism means. It means poor and non-white and therefore brutal. Rivera was followed closely by Limbaugh, who said, “This has the potential to blow the lid open on the NFL and gangs and the whole concept.”
Here is a fact that you may find hard to believe after listening to them: NFL players commit crimes at a much lower rate than their peers in the general population. Around 2,700 players pass through NFL training camps every season, and 1,696 make rosters. Yes, some of them get arrested — about 2 to 3 percent a year. The national arrest rate for males aged 22 to 34? It’s 10.8 percent, according to FBI crime statistics for 2009.
There have been a grand total of 34 arrests of NFL players since the Super Bowl, according to a crime database compiled by the San Diego Tribune. If that number sounds high, juxtapose it next to the 1,600-plus men who did not get arrested and who did exactly nothing to deserve the phrase “jungle ethos.”
Now let’s take a look at some of those arrests, break them down and see what kind of crimes they were.
Seven of the arrests were for DUIs. This is not a great statistic, yet it’s hardly surprising, given that men between the ages of 21 and 25 are the worst offenders when it comes to drunken driving. One study in Illinois showed that the age group has a DUI arrest rate of about 17 per 1,000 licensed drivers.
Two of the arrests were for public intoxication. Three were for marijuana possession. Three more belong in the category of risky or feckless but comparatively benign behavior: Cardinals running back Javarris James failed to appear for a court proceeding, Eagles tackle Jason Peters got caught drag racing and Broncos safety Quinton Carter tried to cheat in a casino.