Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

USA TODAY Sports

Criminality and the NFL; homicide and attempted homicide are the top stories of the week.

The news and information death march to training camp continues. We are in round two of Making S(tuff) Up (MSU), now with the emphasis on Best Of/Worst Of lists, who can/should/oughta/better step up this season (players, coaches, teams) and predictions about the 2013 season based on essentially nothing. How about those Pirates! Is it possible that they can keep it up at least through preseason? That would be a nice distraction. Yet it was a compelling week for professional football basically for one reason.

Aaron Hernandez and a rant

The (former) Patriot tight end was featured last week because he was under suspicion of doing something unsavory.

If you're the mean spirited sort then you might wish to see Patriots or Ravens being carted off to jail

The situation escalated this week as Hernandez was arrested and charged with first degree murder. (Still working on the Ravens thing Pa) This set in motion a number of actions and reactions many of which I found to be troubling.

Based upon my personal sense of ethical calculus, shooting someone in the back of the head or being involved in the cover up of someone being shot in the back of the head is of an entirely different order than a sex act that may be questionable in relation to consent, the abuse of animals, accidentally shooting yourself or even the violence potential involved in a carjacking or street robbery.

I still get the sense in media accounts and discussion among fans that this is equivalent of getting in a fist fight outside a strip joint at 3 in the morning. Before proceeding with another word, a disclaimer: I do understand due process. I know that Hernandez is not guilty of anything until he has had his day in court. That being said, lets review what has been alleged to have transpired. Based upon actions that were taken not minutes or hours but days previously, Hernandez and two other suspects (both apprehended as I write this) drove a friend, whose girl friend is the sister of the tight end's fiance to a remote location and executed him.

Now, I'm one of those bleeding hearts who doesn't believe in capital punishment, but if I did and it can be established that Hernandez was in the car, he doesn't have to have been the one to pull the trigger, and actively engaged in a cover up then I believe that would qualify as sufficient cause to, as they say euphemistically, put him down.

So when I hear conversation discussing the possible length of his suspension (suspension!) or the parameters laid out by the league concerning when other teams might be permitted to compete for his services (what!). When the focal point of discussion is how stupid he is. By this they mean that the pre-planning and cover up were poorly conceived and executed, and why as a millionaire athlete would he stoop to doing such a thing. All of this serves to sidestep what he actually did (i.e. with forethought and malice he was involved in the termination of the life of a human being). 'Stupid' does not rise (or fall) to the level of adequately describing what transpired. Nor do terms such as 'indiscretion', 'mistake', or 'an unfortunate incident' serve as sufficient representation of what actually happened.

I get a little disturbed when folks say 'Too bad for the victim and his family' and then immediately launch into an enthusiastic discussion of the implications to the Patriot salary cap, whether the thuggery quotient in the NFL is higher than that of society at large, and waxing eloquently over whether Mike Wallace and the Dolphins can overtake the Pats for the AFC East. I get it, this is a football site, but I can't help to think that I would be furious if the grief, rage and suffering of a family could be so easily dismissed with eight words. I know the show must go on, but, damn.

On a deeper level I begin to wonder whether we are losing our soul as a nation, and does this make us complicit in some way with what happened. The affect seems off somehow. Wouldn't a healthier response be a greater sense of outrage and revulsion to this act of extreme premeditated violence? People seemed more upset with what happened with MIchael Vick's dogs. Why am I suspecting that celebrity status is causing some of us to bend over backwards dreaming up justifications that Hernandez must be just a dupe or not involved at all (or conversely, why a few million dollars in the bank should exempt one from human failings. How screwed up is that thinking?) I wonder if we are skirting past the human tragedy too quickly and immersing ourselves in the more comfortable landscape of the business implications or that Belichick and Kraft are finally getting their just desserts.

If it turns out that this is all some enormous misunderstanding and a rush to judgment then I'll be first in line with the mea culpas. But otherwise the only discussion of Hernandez ever being in a uniform again would be one of those chain gang outfits like the Steelers throwbacks, tastefully done in Patriot red, white and blue, picking up cigarette butts and styrofoam cups from the side of road, watched closely by Junior wielding a shotgun.

End of rant.

Shamarko Thomas

Given the time of the year there are enough human interest stories popping up about players to give one diabetes. But the piece in this week's Post-Gazette on the rookie fourth round draft pick is a remarkable and touching story that has readers rooting hard for this young man. Certain stories take you beyond just hoping that a player is sufficiently talented and dedicated to make the team and make a quality contribution to the organization's success. You want them to prevail as a validation of their story and their character. In recent years you find yourself feeling that way for a Baron Batch, Aaron Smith or Myron Rolle. Shamarko Thomas now falls into that category as well.

Isaac Redman

Not quite at the level of the Thomas profile, part one of a conversation with Redman at Steelers.com gives some nice insight into a player who fans and others have talked more about than to during his tenure with the team.

The 100 best players

What is frustrating about this made for television off season exercise is that it has this air of credibility that is derived from the fact that NFL players are the ones voting upon the list. If you hate this crap as much as I do then Bill Barnwell's piece at Grantland.com is must reading. He makes a compelling case for why the players votes could be seen as suspect and flawed. For example, he cites the fact that most players, because of their work obligations, see far less of the action during any given year than many fans. They probably know more about the specific teams they have to face during the year and certain key adversaries, but otherwise tend to be just as susceptible to the superficial and flawed thinking that trips us casual (and not so casual) fans as well.

Steelers Mount Rushmore

This interesting fan exercise will be over by the time you read this but it is probably worth it to check out our piece on it and join in with your own thoughts about which four Steelers figure should be memorialized. My thoughts are listed below.

1. The Rooney Family

2. Chuck Noll

3. Joe Greene

4. Bill Nunn

The parameters of the survey allowed for multiple Rooneys to be condensed into one category. Hard enough to limit the choices to four. I jumped at the chance to blend the Chief and Dan Rooney into one slot. If Chuck Noll's reign had begun a decade earlier perhaps we be referring to the Noll Trophy. Any number of players would be deserving of a spot, but none get ahead of the line of Mean Joe. This is not just a recognition of his talent and leadership, but his influence and the significance of his being the demarcation point of the team's transition to greatness. Nunn represents the innovation in player procurement and development that made so much of the team's success possible. All else is derivative from these four influences.

Tomlin vs. Harbaugh

ESPN conducted a poll that asked participants to rank which coach was better. See the results here.

Impact of the 2013 draft class

Two different takes on what potentially will come about from this year's draft class by SteelCityRoller and some other guy.

Predictions

They can be a pain and a bore except, of course, when they are predicting success for the Steelers and its players. According to two reports there is good news in the future for Maurkice Pouncey, and the gamblers are betting on the Steelers this year.

Bill Cowher

And while we are on the subject of coaches, Bill Cowher made the news this week because of a car accident that he was in. Fortunately Coach was unhurt, however, the Mercedes he was driving was not so lucky.

The Deacon Jones Award

Beginning this season the NFL will honor the late Hall of Famer with an award given to the league's sack leader. Will LaMarr Woodley have a chance to be it's first recipient?

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