How does the NFL respond to the horrific murder of Odin Lloyd allegedly committed by Aaron Hernandez, and any correlated concerns about football players and violence? By addressing the high level of domestic abuse committed by its players? Nope. By examining the alarming amount of concussions, and concussion-related medical complications, that result from such an implicitly violent game? Uh uh. Instead, America’s most popular sports league considers hiring gang-tattoo-reading experts to better determine which potential NFL players might be more inclined toward gang activity.
Which reminds me of something I wrote for the Valley Advocate back in 2008 (see “Saving Pro Sports, One possibly gang-related hand-sign-gesture incident at a time,” August 14, 2008), and which, unfortunately, seems just as pertinent today, five years later, as it likely will be the next time one of our major sports leagues pretends to address (perceived) gang-related violence by first whitewashing, I mean managing, its consumer image:
“Alarm over gang activity and violence is commendable. But one wonders where the public relations stop and the honest concern begins.”
Back then, the issue was (now former – sniff, sniff, longing sigh of appreciation) Boston Celtics superstar Paul Pierce’s “blood, sweat and tears” hand-sign gesture, which Commissioner David Stern and his NBA front office cronies saw as “menacing,” slapping the C’s captain with a $25,000 fine. Not to be out-hyped, I mean outdone, by the NBA, the NFL then made news with the proposed hiring of experts to study the on-field celebrations of its players to determine whether or not those celebrations included any gang signs.
Regrettably, it seems the fine had more to do with the shade of Paul Pierce's skin than with the "menacing" nature of his hand gesture, as today’s consideration of consulting gang-tattoo-reading experts has more to do with where Aaron Hernandez grew up than with the horrific murder he almost assuredly was a part of.
"There have been some things that we've seen," Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's Vice President of Security, said back in 2008.
"The Paul Pierce thing is what brought it to light," added the NFL's Vice President of Officiating, Mike Pereira. "That's when we said we need to take a look and see if we need to be aware of it."
The reality is that many professional athletes do come from rough, often gang-inhabited neighborhoods. "A ball player's got to be kept hungry," the legendary Joe DiMaggio once remarked. "That's why no boy from a rich family ever made the big leagues."
Yet, while success through sports continues to be one of the most celebrated roads out of poverty, the facts are a little more daunting. Of all high school athletes playing some sport across the country, only three percent of them will get to play in college. And of all our collegiate student-athletes, only three percent again will make it to any professional league.
These are the dire odds with which many of today's athletes must contend. And yet, it is with the hiring of gang-tattoo reading experts and other cockamamie public relations stunts that the leagues, and their billionaire owners-serving millionaire commissioners like the NFL's Roger Goodell, seem the most concerned. What exactly do they strive to save: the sports themselves, or the lucrative television contracts and corporate-seating-spectators that beef up their wallets and fill their stadiums? What are the honest intentions of our league's commissioners?