What a crazy week. /understatement
Even putting aside the up and down big ticket decisions out of United States Supreme Court this week, and even putting aside that crazy filibuster down in Texas that had us all riveted in a way politics rarely does unless it involves dick pics and/or unruly ejaculate, and even putting aside a bereft Paula Deen trying to rehabilitate her image by lying and crying on The Today Show, it was a crazy week. Even just looking at what's happened in sports, and even just Boston sports, and even just Boston sports that are professional American football.
An NFL player - and a pretty high profile one at that - killed a man. And may have killed others. I know there haven't been any convictions yet, but I'm not willing to dwell on suspicions of innocence when the facts give me none.
Every reporter who covers football should care about this. Every fan of pro football should care about this. If you're talking about the story, there is plenty to delve into: explaining the potential motives, sorting through Hernandez's past, speaking with family and friends, digging for information about that 2012 drive-by. All of this comes with the caveat that "Hernandez as villain" is the story. Hernandez as apart from the rest of us - the people who haven't taken it upon themselves to take the life of another.
Sorting through it all is an exercise in trying to find an explanation for some terrible fucking things that have happened, and to adequately frame Hernandez as man and as killer.
This is how we get right. We can do it callously or patiently or quietly or any way we really want. We must respect the victim(s), surely, and hold them up in any way we can. But we owe nothing to the man and killer. He owes us - the society with which he had and broke a sacred social contract - everything.
An eventual conviction and sentence will return Hernandez, in a legal sense, to an equilibrium with society. In a social sense, though, our collective "working through it" is how we get that equilibrium to be real.
The accuracy of this exercise is important, too. It's important to ensure, as we sort through the facts and form opinions about the man and killer, that we don't get bogged down with items far on the periphery. That, in reaching our solution, we don't fall into the trap of bringing other issues into our criticism; other issues that are simply too dissimilar to merit comparison with Hernandez's act on equal terms. Indeed, making anything else the story now, and using the Hernandez case as a springboard, is beyond asinine. It is intellectually reckless.
So when Mario Williams instagrammed a "Grand Theft New England" picture with Hernandez's head photo-shopped on, there is a necessity that those who might comment on it do so in a way that respects the only acceptable frame: Hernandez killed a guy and the rest is just noise in comparison.
What we got, though, was an object lesson in how "journalists" get so wrapped up in finding and creating a story that the words they write are nothing more than alphabetic vomit.
Putting aside my personal feelings about this sniveling piece of shit journalist, the stuff he writes is, from time to time good, and from time to time absolutely not. Last night, in the midst of making a completely fair point about image issues facing the NFL, he gave us a terribly bad version of writing and reporting, allowing his completely fair point to be distorted by equivocations and lazy analogies, all the while glossing over very real distinctions - important distinctions - that make the story both more complex and more accurate. And also harder to write.
It all started simply enough.
(I've color-coded my comments as I realize the screen shots of his piece may make it hard to tell the difference)
But, image concerns are totally fair and I don't expect all fans or sponsors to agree with me.
The headline was fine. The asserted point of the piece? Fine. But the devil is the details, and the details are of no matter to Mr. Graham.
- In November 2005, he was arrested for carrying a concealed handgun in Illinois, which simply did not allow concealed handguns. He broke the law.
- On February 12, 2006, Johnson, while still on probation, was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after allegedly verbally threatening a police officer. He broke the law.
- On December 14, 2006, Lake County police officers searched Johnson's home in Gurnee, Illinois, and allegedly discovered that he possessed six firearms, including two assault rifles. According to police reports, some of the guns were loaded and there were children in the house. He broke the law, AND endangered kids.
- On December 22, 2006, Cook County Circuit Judge John J. Moran, Jr. (Skokie courthouse, Second District, Cook County, Illinois) placed Johnson on home confinement, preventing him from driving by himself or leaving the state of Illinois. Because he had broken the law.
Broadening the description of Tank Johnson's legal troubles as arising "because of guns" is incredibly disingenuous. But not without purpose, since the whole point is casting a net big enough to catch a $100 million fish.
The NFL isn't hyper-sensitive about guns, Mr. Graham. They're hyper-sensitive about their players committing crimes with guns and can't figure any better advice for 23 year old rookies than Tank Johnson's "don't own a gun." It's not official NFL policy. It's smart advice to give to man boys who you fear can't be trusted. It's also completely irrelevant to the discussion of whether the NFL's image is, and should be, hurt by a player's legal ownership and use of guns.
But whatever. On with the narrative,
Oh, and while we're here -- the "there's a high degree of likelihood" line is classic. There is absolutely no evidence that Williams' gun ownership has ever resulted in any illegal act, yet the way Graham writes this purposefully (I think) makes it a matter of pretty vague probability, with an unsubstantiated, if small, probability that Williams is just a thug like the rest of the NFL players who love to shoot people in the face.
In related news, there's a high degree of likelihood that Tim Graham doesn't watch anime porn from his Buffalo News computer. Hashtag journalism.
Small: Citing something from 2011 as a reminder that the gun climate has been steamy for a long time is funny to me. It was two years ago.
Big: Citing something from 2011 involving a black player photographed with guns in your story about a black player posting photographs of himself with guns, while simultaneously overlooking the similar instances where white players have been photographed with guns, too, is racist as hell. I'm sorry, but it is.
I can almost accept the backlash for James Harrison, since it was a pretty brutal image that accompanied the piece on him being the "NFL's Hitman." Though he responded with a statement about legal gun ownership and never committed a crime with a gun, so I don't know how we can possibly put him in the same category as Tank Johnson or Aaron Hernandez. (though he was arrested for a domestic dispute in 2008; it didn't involve a gun, thus no similar outrage. Weird.)
I have my own ideas about how we, as a society, have more problems with black men having guns than white men, but in the meantime google image search "NFL player with gun" and see what you get. See how long it takes you to find the pictures of Allen or Brees. See how many pictures of black players simply standing on a football field you see.
So now, to recap, we have Graham brushing aside real distinctions between legal and illegal gun use, and we have him doing it in a way that reinforces social attitudes about who can legally use a gun without creating "backlash."
Good thing Mr. Graham clarified the underlying constitutional issue, though.
"Mario Williams retains the right to bear arms and to have white people overreact when he does." - Justice Antonin Scalia
Two points while I cover up the vomit on my shirt:
(1) I'll start worrying about the role modeling of legal conduct by athletes once the illegal conduct by players has ceased.
(2) To that end - A FOOTBALL PLAYER JUST KILLED SOMEONE. If Commissioner Goodell is spending any time thinking about Mario Williams' instagram account this week, he's a bigger shithead than I thought.
Yell at me on twitter if you must. @theycallmedubs