Dear Aaron Hernandez,
You’re doing it wrong.
I’m sure you have figured that out already, but I just wanted to reinforce it because when you are arrested as an accessory to murder to a man whose body was found a mile away from your home, and another man claims you shot him in the face after a disagreement outside a nightclub in Florida, you are really doing it wrong.
Now I understand that this is the United States of America, and you are innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn’t mean that even if you are innocent you still are not guilty of being a poor decision maker.
Aaron Hernandez, you are a professional football player. You are getting paid $40 million over the course of five years, what are you doing hanging out with your buddies who may have committed a murder?
I don’t care how close you are with them; at that point you have to cut ties for your own good, so that incidents like these do not happen. Because you are in a place now where, even if you are innocent, you are cut from the Patriots, and a team will be skeptical to pick you up. There were already questions about your maturity coming into the league when you dropped to the fourth round in the draft because scouts were concerned about marijuana use in college and potential gang ties back in Bristol, CT. Did this not cross your mind when you decided to hang out with them that night?
You have to get away from all of that, I know that was the environment you grew up in, but that doesn’t mean you should stay there. You can’t afford to.
I just don’t understand.
And that is the biggest problem we are having, Aaron, we don’t understand.
We don’t understand that there were approximately 1 million gang members in the United States in 2009, with an estimated 35% of them being under 18 years of age, totaling to 350,000. To tell us that 86% of US cities with over 100,000 people in them have reported gang activity still doesn’t give us a clear perspective of the pressures on inner city youth.
But when we hear that 90% of the youth in juvenile correctional facilities had gang ties to them we understand that once you are in gang you will more than likely be doing illegal things. And to hear that 98% of gang members will either be dead, maimed, or in prison by the time they are 21 years of age, just reaffirms our belief that gangs are dangerous.
Sure we can look at these statistics and see that there is a problem, that prominence of gang activity can either lead a youth growing up in those areas to join a gang or be closely associated to gang members. But much of the rest of gang pressure and culture is foreign to us, aside from what we may have seen in films like Boyz n the Hood or on TV.
See we get that gangs are bad, but we don’t have as clear of understanding as to why someone would want to go down that path. We don’t truly understand the pressures, how for some youth it surrounds their whole environment and all they know.
When we turn on the TV every Sunday to watch you play, we are thinking about all the obstacles you have to overcome to win the game, not all the obstacles you had to overcome to get where you are today. Not that we don’t know you came from rough areas, we read about it here or there, and see it in your philanthropy. With cities like Miami, Detroit, NYC, and LA being among the hotbeds for NFL talent, it is no surprise to us that many players from the league grew up in the inner city.
See we know, Aaron, but we don’t know.
We expect there to be a sort of understanding and maturity gained, almost intrinsically, once a person becomes a professional athlete. We are surprised that athletes still carry guns, use drugs, and blow through money once they are signed to a team.
We don’t understand why they don’t understand how irresponsible they are being.
But here’s the thing, you do.
You get that this is not just some juvenile nonsense; it’s real, and it is a way of life for some. And this isn’t a racial thing, while Hispanics and Blacks do dominate inner city gang culture that does not mean that all of inner city youth is not at risk from their living circumstances.
And now I you get that this way of life has too many pitfalls to be valuable, and has trapped so many youth who think they are progressing from actually progressing.
The problem is that if you are faced with an inner city, gang understanding of the world, and then are given $40 million to do something that you are good at and love, that gang understanding doesn’t just disappear at 23 years old, that’s still on the back of your mind. It takes a moment like this to put it all in perspective. It shouldn’t have to, but for all too many they learn their lesson far too late.
And Aaron I don’t know what will happen to you. Again, you are innocent right now, but you are still guilty of making poor decisions. I don’t condone your alleged actions. You may have taken a man’s life, any upbringing regardless of how tough, teaches that this is wrong. Let this be a lesson. Moreover, let this be a lesson you can teach to others who come from similar places as you. Like I said, I don’t understand, but you do.
Aaron, think of how heartbreaking it would be for a kid who made it out of the inner city, who was doing well financially, able to take care of his family, only to be caught up with dangerous friends from his days as a youth. Think of how tough it must have been to say no to those people when that was something he was at one time comfortable with. What if because of that night he was locked away for years, lost his financial stability because of court cases, and unable to continue to play the game he loved.
Maybe we need to start preparing that youth for the realities of growing up in those types of environments, how he will need to stay away from gang pressures early so that he doesn’t get caught up in it later. That could be a lesson that that youth could have benefitted from. Maybe if that youth had some more guidance from those around him he would have been able to stay away from those people, still play the game he loves and take care of those he loves.
The most heartbreaking this is that that youth could be real and could be you.
It’s too late stop yourself from doing whatever you may have done, but it’s not too late to stop those who grew up in similar circumstances as you. You owe it them, and to yourself.
In short Aaron, this is a call to you. Do not become a punchline like Plaxico, Pacman Jones, and so many others to a sick joke by fans who do not understand. Use this as fuel. Make us understand.
You may have done a bad thing, but you can still provide good from it.
Follow Mark Albano on Twitter: @MarkAlbano11