Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Aaron Hernandez and the American Way: A tale of murder, media, guns, race, class, and the NFL

By Michael J.W. Stickings

My apologies for being away from blogging most of the past few weeks, and, once more, a huge thanks to Richard and my great co-bloggers for filling in. For a variety of reasons, including kids, work, and a busted computer, I've been doing my writing, such as it is, almost exclusively at that wonderful and dysfunctional place called Twitter (you can find me here).

But I'm back, refreshed and, while still intending to tweet a lot, eager to get back to more serious writing.

I'll take it slowly today, though, with a post on the current crime sensation involving a certain tight end for the New England Patriots...

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By now, you've surely heard about the ongoing police investigation of the murder of Odin Lloyd, if only because it involves a sports celebrity, football player Aaron Hernandez. (Whether you have or haven't, Time has a helpful guide here.)

With the police searching for evidence, there's been a ton of speculation in the media, with reports that charges were going to be filed turning out, so far, to be untrue -- and, predictably, Hernandez's lawyer has attacked the media for what he called "false reports." Basically, we don't know anything, or at least not nearly enough to have much of a clue. Maybe Hernandez did something, maybe not, but it's not even clear what that something might be -- obstruction of justice? more and worse? It's just too early to say.

Follow the story if you like, and however you like. The sensation-obsessed media are all over it -- you know how much they like (feed off of) the intersection of crime and celebrity.

But step back a moment. There's more going on here than you might think. Because it's not just about the crime and the celebrity, it's what this whole episode tells us about... well, pretty much everything. And for that, there's no better person to turn to than Charles Pierce, who in a piece at Grantland yesterday was as brilliant as ever, shining his flashlight on the sordid underbelly of the whole damn thing -- the bloodthirsty media, the bloodthirsty gun culture, the bloodthirsty pro sports industry, and pretty much the degradation of American civilization as we know it.

To wit:

The dynamic of celebrity murder is as odious as it is inevitable. It requires the media — and the complicit public, namely us — to invest ourselves in the notion that some murders are more heinous than others, more worthy of our attention than others, and, therefore, that some victims are more lamentable than others, with all the moral ambivalence that calculation obviously entails. A celebrity murder also requires of the media that creates it an insatiable appetite for anything and everything that can be attached to The Case; a multimedia black hole is created, sucking in all information that comes within its zone of darkness. Cousins are interviewed. Hell, the diaper-service guy for the house down the block gets interviewed. Theories are propounded. Long-distance psychoanalysis is practiced. Big Thoughts are thought and, worse, expressed, about What It All Means, when, really, all it means is that human beings will kill each other, which we learned back in the early chapters of the Bible, remember? Nancy Grace rises from the box of fresh earth in which she sleeps every night to stalk the cable landscape, feeding vicariously on the blood of the victim.

See? Brilliant. So too this:

The vetting process for college kids who want careers in the NFL is already intrusive. The draft process is already vile and (probably) utterly against antitrust law. Face facts. You are trying to determine if someone has enough "character" to make a living playing a brutal sport based on the fundamental immorality of destroying the human body for entertainment purposes. You are trying to assess the "character" of someone you're going to turn into a tool and a commodity anyway. The basic moral conundrum in the middle of all of this is not capable of being solved. All you can do is guess. So you guess. And you hope for the best. The remarkable thing is that more players don't end up like Aaron Hernandez.

Of course, we will have endless bloviating about what in Hernandez's "background" may have warned off the poor, misguided Patriots, had they only known, which I guarantee you they did. But, seriously, how are you supposed to "vet" a player so as to know whether he might get involved in killing a guy? Because he smoked some weed in college? Please, do not be stupid. Because of the "influences" around him while he was growing up? Please, do not go there at all. You might question why a player seems to be involved in so many unfortunate occurrences involving firearms, but then Wayne LaPierre will show up on your lawn, hurling anathemas and spittle at you. When Roger Goodell speaks out that it's too easy for everyone — not just NFL players, but their friends and "influences" who never get out of the places where poverty and crime go unremarked upon by the television hairdos — to get their hands on deadly weapons, then I'll buy the hype his sycophants ladle out.

(Seriously, read the whole thing. You'll be a better person for it.)

None of this is to say that Hernandez is guilty or not, of anything or nothing. That will come, one assumes, once he is charged, or not, and has his day in court, or not.

Or... not. Maybe we'll learn the truth, maybe we won't. We shall see.

In the meantime, and more broadly, and more importantly, there are the various troubling matters Pierce raises -- about the media, about the culture, about The American Way.

A murder is bad enough, obviously, and hopefully those responsible will be brought to justice. In a case like this, though, there's more than enough guilt to go around.

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