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Pouncey hats and "Free Hernandez": What can we really assume?

We have to make some assumptions as we try to explain the "Free Hernandez" hats and the reaction they've caused. But reconciling the assumptions with everything we know (or think we know) about the Pouncey twins in the bigger picture isn't exactly straightforward.


As the news cycle regarding Maurkice and Mike Pouncey's "Free Hernandez" hats has unfolded, it has become clear that I do not seem to agree with the majority opinions of either the Pouncey critics or their defenders/apologists.

Note the use of the word "opinion", as I do want to make it clear from the get-go that the following assessment is an opinion.

Let's begin with Maurkice Pouncey's apology (Mike still has yet to address the backlash):

"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."

What stands out the most to me is that there is no distancing from the hats and their message - i.e., claiming the hats are not actually theirs and were just given to them during the party and donned on a whim. Again, this is just my personal opinion here, but now I feel like it is safer to surmise that the Pounceys did acquire the hats beforehand and voluntarily wore them to the event.

There are plenty of professional athletes out there who do things on a whim that reach social media, or make inflammatory comments at the spur of a moment, that are later removed from Twitter/Facebook. The New York Giants' Victor Cruz added his name to the lengthy list in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, and the Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White did as well. In this case with the pictures of the Pouncey twins having been taken and distributed by others, trying to delete them off Twitter/Facebook as part of damage control efforts was never an option and issuing a statement was all that was left.

However, I'm not quite buying the assumption that the twins were just two more dumb pro athletes inadvertently creating news. They are intelligent guys. It has been emphasized by just about everyone who has worked with them from their coaches at Florida to the coaches and front office staff of their NFL teams to the guys who cover them for a living.

Wearing the hats out for a night on the town - or any article of clothing for that matter - is typically deliberate (do we usually put an outfit together for a night out and leave without looking in the mirror first to make sure we like what we see?). Wearing the hats to their own birthday party - where they would presumably be noticed and maybe occasionally sought out - and furthermore considering that they had the party at a popular, ritzy nightclub packed with far too many people to be just close friends and family, indicates to me that they really didn't mind being seen in the hats (unless you're telling me that Omar Kelly, who covers the Dolphins for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, is typically in attendance at their low-key, private shindigs. If I'm wrong, do correct me though.)

That the Pouncey twins posed for multiple pictures highlighting what the hats said indicates to me that they really, really did not mind being seen. Or rather, it seems to indicate that they wanted the hats to be seen.

If given the option, I always prefer to believe that people are intelligent. Assuming the Pouncey twins were aware that the prevailing popular opinion on Aaron Hernandez is that he is toxic and someone that most entities want to distance themselves from right now, it would be easy to see some backlash to taking the opposite position and standing with him.

As for their fans at large who may not approve of the "Free Hernandez" message (which is just an expression of free speech in a country that espouses the presumption of innocence until proven guilty), it could have been predicted that the most the twins would owe is some form of contrite statement after the fact, and it will eventually be forgotten by most of us. Perhaps they could also foresee that the ever handy explanation of "dumb athletes doing dumb things" might be used to help usher it back out of the news cycle just as quickly as it came in.

Maybe that would be giving their capability of forethought way too much credit, but I've heard far, far too much about how the Pouncey twins are smart, intelligent guys to accept that they could not see any of this coming.

Maurkice and Mike Pouncey were leaders at the University of Florida, and despite their relative youth, are already leaders on their respective NFL teams. Leaders stay leaders by knowing how to press people's buttons and keep the loyalty of friends, teammates, and followers. Effective leaders know that sometimes catering to one party will reduce their stature and cachet with another, but it can be worth it if that bridge is easier to mend in the future.

The way I see it - looking at what they did, when they did it, and how they did it - is they were making a statement and were fine with it becoming public knowledge, but that does not necessarily equate with making a "public statement". I may just be quibbling with semantics, but I think it is a valid distinction to try to make while the line between our public and private lives becomes even more blurry.

Maybe the degree of backlash was greater than the twins expected. Maybe it wasn't. Either way, at its core it appears that they wanted to send a message to their old teammate in prison. And it will get to him. As far as I'm concerned, their specific reasons for wanting to send the message are between them and Hernandez, and I don't really expect any further elaboration on their part. (But if they are willing to elaborate, I'm certainly curious enough to listen.)

Again, this will eventually fade away and be forgotten by most of us, but the "Free Hernandez" message and the way in which the Pouncey twins chose to send it are not likely to be forgotten by the intended primary recipient.

Once more, with feeling!

"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." - Maurkice Pouncey