The aftermath of Maurkice Pouncey's decision to sport his "Free Hernandez" hat showed a varied range of reactions from fans, critics and analysts.
A majority of the reactions were more aligned with my perception of the incident to be a poorly thought out assertion of Pouncey's first amendment rights. Nothing Pouncey did had any legal ramifications, but it certainly attracted the wrong kind of media attention in a Summer when the Steelers had been clean of any news stories in bad lights.
Fans of the Steelers can be found making comments under articles on that range anywhere from "who cares?" to "trade the guy." Some of the responses wondered if this is a signal that the 2010 first round draft pick might be more trouble than he's worth and that a mistake such as this could lead to others like it as well as a lingering cloud of bad publicity over the team. However is this faux pas really that bad? And does it mean that more things like it are to follow?
Ask Jerry Jones how he felt this time last year about that question. The Dallas Cowboys' star receiver and their 2010 1st round draft pick, Dez Bryant, had been a one-man-wrecking-crew of bad publicity for the Cowboys. Bryant had been arrested on July 16, 2012 for family violence charges and domestic violence charges were also late pressed against him. Going into the 2012-2013 NFL season Bryant did not look like a favorable athlete after his own mother had been quoted as accusing him of trying to kill her.
We all know how his season went this past year. More than 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns later, Bryant has developed himself to be the premier player on the Cowboys' roster. The media that jumped all over his criminal charges just a year ago now praises him for keeping himself away from bad publicity since the last incident. The fact is that once you have a productive year, even a violent incident with your mother can be put in the rear view mirror.
Maurkice Pouncey's wearing of the Hernandez hat can easily be seen as a bad move on his part. But let's take note of what just happened with Dallas' Bryant. He's now where he wants to be with his career and everything appears to indicate his prior mistakes are where his team needs them to be, in the past.
Let's be clear, Pouncey's fashion faux pas is not even close in the bad publicity department to what Bryant did. However Bryant's 2012 success shows that an athlete can put mistakes in his life behind him and play solid football. The Hernandez hat incident will ultimately be forgotten with a very productive season in the NFL from Pouncey. Pouncey is recognized as a lineman who could be the best in the business in a few years. If he continues to be a perennial pro-bowler and the offensive line proves to be an asset for the Steelers rather than a liability, the tone on Pouncey may change considerably.