Embattled pro football player Aaron Hernandez has been charged with murder. The former tight end for the New England Patriots was arrested at his home this morning, shortly before his team announced that it was severing its ties with the star player. for more than a week he’s been implicated in a police investigation into the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. The victim was found dead in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez’s home on June 17.
No one really knows what happened. But the media’s filled with lots of speculation, most of it centered on reports that Hernandez failed multiple drug tests while playing collegiate football at the University of Florida and that NFL coaches were worried that his hometown friends from Bristol, Conn. were bad influences. Plenty of media reports have surfaced saying, in effect, that we should’ve seen this coming. And some of the worst analysis has said that a troubled, tattooed, Latino athlete represents a departure from the Patriots’ all-American way.
It’s the same sort of reductive analysis that we see time and again when people of color are involved in criminal cases. Instead of letting a case run its course, the media’s first instinct is to try to pathologize the person who’s involved. In a smart piece at Salon.com’s crime blog this week, Justin Peter’s writes about why this sort of reasoning is so problematic:
These stories are Monday morning quarterbacking of the worst sort. Hernandez’s alleged pre-draft character issues have no bearing on this current murder investigation. You can’t legitimately look back at them and say, "Yep, we should have known." Every single NFL roster is stacked with players who’ve used drugs in the past, or have short tempers or "shadowy friends." And you know what? Every single neighborhood in America is filled with people with these exact same characteristics. That doesn’t make all of these people murderers-in-waiting.
It is dishonest and irrelevant to claim that these are "ominous" signs. Or, at least, they’re no more ominous than the character flaws exhibited by other Patriots players: like Rob Gronkowski, who appears to really, really, really enjoy drinking to excess; Tom Brady, who started dating Gisele Bundchen while Bridget Moynahan was pregnant with his child; Vince Wilfork, who allegedly received $50,000 in under-the-table benefits from disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro while enrolled at the University of Miami; Mark Harrison, who allegedly trashed a hotel room while attending the NFL Scouting Combine ("The mess included urine and feces left throughout the bathroom, toothpaste on the mirror and garbage left throughout the room"); Brandon Spikes, who attempted to gouge an opponent’s eyes while playing at Florida, and whose brother is serving a life sentence for murder; and Sebastian Vollmer, who is from Germany. The list goes on.