David J. Neal: Mike, Maurkice Pouncey learn cost of free speech

07/16/2013 12:01 AM

07/16/2013 12:28 AM

Free Mandela. Free Mumia. Free Hernandez.

Free speech. … But jumping from the Bill of Rights to those declarations of independence, all those men are not created equal. That the Pouncey twins needed some public scolding to understand that speaks to the generation gap between athletes and their teams and fans.

Or, to use a phrase once adopted by the young to their elders, “What we have here is failure to communicate.”

Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and his twin brother, Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey, wore “Free Hernandez” hats at their Saturday birthday party on South Beach. Of course, when they proudly posed with said hats, the photos showed up all over social media. The confined Hernandez, of course, is former New England and University of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, in jail while awaiting trial on charges connected with the murder of Odin Lloyd.

The Pounceys and Hernandez weren’t just teammates at Florida. Mike and Hernandez roomed together.

But the Pounceys turn 24 on July 24. They don’t remember when “Free [jailed person here]” once carried a social element.

The incarceration of those just lusting for basic human rights (i.e., Nelson Mandela in South Africa, freed in the Pounceys’ infancy) stood as a symbol of societal ills. So did the jailing of those seen by some as denied justice because of beliefs or skin outside the mainstream (i.e., Huey Newton, dead a month after the Pounceys were born).

As a gauge to how the phrase has been cheapened through the years (and maybe a statement on our role models), you’ve got “Free Boosie.”

Rapper Lil Boosie can be found in a Louisiana jail, where he has been since September 2009 on a series of drug charges. Unlike Huey Newton or Mumia Abu Jamal, there’s no question Torrence Hatch (Lil’ Boosie) did the crimes — he pled guilty to each drug charge, not guilty to a murder charge of which he was acquitted in 2012 — so there’s not much of a greater symbolism in his stay with the state. Fans just want him out to drop a new joint or don’t know how else to show their affection.

So it is with the Pounceys, who acted with the impetuousness of youth.

They didn’t take the time to think how “Free Hernandez” looks to the middle-aged and old folks who coach them, run the teams that employ them and buy the really good tickets to their games. They didn’t take the time to think how it would look to anyone who feels sympathy toward Lloyd and his family.

They didn’t take the time, like so many of the young don’t in these omniscient times, to think how photos of them grinning beneath those hats would look on social media. They didn’t take time to think of something more indicative of Hernandez’s situation (“It Wasn’t Him” “Until Proven Guilty” “Don’t Judge His Present By His Past”).

There’s been no police or prosecutorial misconduct yet. Hernandez will get his day in court, probably with a very good lawyer, considering how much he should have in the bank. With that big bank, what Hernandez has hanging over him and his history, there’s no way any judge should have granted bail.

Maurkice Pouncey apologized on Twitter Monday after a conversation with the Steelers, Tweeting that he knows how serious the charges facing Hernandez are and “I regret that my actions appear to make light of that situation.” No comment from Mike yet.

Free speech still exists. It’s just that more people hear it and react to it faster. Even the people who have grown up with this world of immediacy seem to have a hard time with that.

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