By Matthew Marczi
If the events of the past two days have not been illuminating for professional athletes, particularly the young adults among them, then perhaps they should have been paying closer attention.
On Saturday, a jury of six ruled that George Zimmerman was not guilty of second degree murder nor manslaughter after an altercation last year that led to the death of Trayvon Martin. A number of players around the NFL, including those on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, voiced their opinions about the ruling on Twitter and other social media platforms.
Some, evidently, went a little overboard to the point where they received public backlash for their comments—enough that they, or their publicists, felt that it was warranted to issue a public apology for their remarks. Cases in point: Roddy White of the Atlanta Falcons and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants. Throw in Arizona Cardinals rookie Tyrann Mathieu for good measure.
Each of these individuals took to Twitter to express their displeasure with the ruling. Which, in and of itself, is fine. Yet each crossed a dangerous boundary, especially for those in the public eye.
Victor Cruz intimated that Zimmerman may soon find himself a victim of retribution, saying that he “doesn’t last a year before the hood catches up to him”. Of course, he is not expressing a desire for violent harm on a personal level. Nevertheless, public figures are well-advised to steer well clear of suggesting such a thing.
Then there was Roddy White. White, who has a history of controversial statements, said that the “jurors should go home tonight and kill themselves for letting a grown man get away with killing a kid”. Regardless of one’s feelings on the ruling, there is truly no excuse for statements like these in the public forum.
Lastly, there was Tyrann Mathieu, who said that the rulings “make you wanna scream free Aaron Hernandez”. Hernandez, of course, is the former New England Patriots tight end who is currently in federal custody following his arrest for the murder of an associate, and is under suspicion of two other murders from 2012.
Mathieu’s Tweet conveniently segues into the event most concerning to those who follow the Steelers this weekend. That is, of course, the surfacing of images of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and his twin brother Mike Pouncey donning baseball caps with inscriptions that read “Free Hernandez”.
The Pounceys and Hernandez, of course, all played together in college in Florida, and were known to be friends. In other words, it is unlikely that they simply read Tyrann Mathieu’s Tweet and decided to kick it up a notch.
It is one thing to stick up for a friend, even in the face of absurd odds. The friends of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, for example, still maintain his innocence. It is another matter, however, when you are a public figure whose every action is a direct reflection upon your employer. And the Steelers evidently thought it was significant enough to warrant a talk with the fourth year veteran.
There is a desire to say that it is surprising that these young athletes still do not understand how to conduct themselves in the public sphere, whether out in public or on social media, but the unfortunate truth is that it really is not surprising at all.
Young people from all walks of life could stand to take a course on common sense with social media. Lesson one: Twitter is not a personal text message to all of your friends and family. Every single thing that you say on these social media platforms is a matter of public record, and is a direct reflection of your person.
Think twice before you hit send and consider whether what you wrote is how you want to represent yourself. If somebody like Herm Edwards can understand this simple lesson so intuitively that he is able to preach it on a yearly basis to the league’s incoming rookies, then it should not be a difficult concept to grasp.
This also applies to public figures in the public sphere. You should know that at any opportunity, anything that you do can be quickly made into a headline. Such as wearing apparel in support of an alleged murderer. The Steelers already have enough experience with social media faux pas, but the reality is that this will not be the last one.
Please note that this is an article on the subject of using discretion in the public sphere for professional athletes. In no way does it mean to suggest that athletes should not be free to express themselves, or that they should necessarily risk discipline for being honest.
More importantly, this is most certainly not a political article, and in no way intends to express an opinion on the guilt or innocence of either George Zimmerman or Aaron Hernandez. Remember, this is a football website. Let’s keep the political discussions out of the comments section.