You Can Take the Thug Out Of the Hood, But...

Success and money don't change what's inside.

Although by no means a sports fan, I've followed the story of Mr. Aaron Hernandez with interest mixed with sorrow.  Mr. Hernandez grew up in a tough neighborhood but became a high-school and college football star.

He nearly didn't make the NFL.  Despite his obvious skills, teams didn't want him because he was known for lapses of judgment which got him into trouble.  The New England Patriots took a chance late in the draft when they wouldn't have to pay him much.

The Patriots got a spectacular return on their investment.  He gained more than 1,300 yards, nearly won the Super Bowl, and was one of the top 3 tight ends in the NFL.  He signed a $4 million contract and moved into a $1.4 million house.

You Can Take the Thug Out Of the Hood, But ...

I first heard of Mr. Hernandez when he was arrested for murdering one of his old-time companions from the 'hood.  A few weeks later, I ran across a young man who'd played football against Mr. Hernandez in high school.  "He was good, but my team beat his team," I was told.  "I don't care what they say, everybody who plays wants to make the NFL.  He had it made and he blew it."

"So he couldn't get away from the 'hood?"

"Yeah, the 'hood got him.  That's why I never go back.  If I ever go back, I'll get killed."

I asked why Mr. Hernandez, who has reportedly confessed, had felt he had to kill the guy.  My acquaintance told me that the cops had found that Mr. Hernandez had shot up a car while he was still in college and inflicted "serious bodily harm" on one of the occupants.  He thought someone from the 'hood tried to blackmail Mr. Hernandez and got killed for it.

"Why shoot up the car?"

"To get street cred.  He had to show them he was still tough so they'd leave him alone."

That didn't make sense.  "Why didn't he go to the cops?  He had a million dollar mansion.  He was a taxpayer.  His taxes paid cops' salaries.  They'd have helped him."

I got a totally blank look.  It seemed he didn't believe that the police ever helped anyone.

"If not cops, what about his coach?  He got a thousand yards.  They want another thousand yards; that's why they paid him so much.  The guy who owns the Patriots is real rich.  He's probably on a first-name basis with the governor.  If he asked the governor to keep the 'hood off his thousand-yard guy, the state cops could put out the word.  If not the staties, they could hire Pinkerton's and surround his house with guys with guns.  Why didn't he ask for help?"

I got more blank looks.  We clearly weren't communicating, so we talked about his iPhone instead.

The Cops and the Hood

On thinking about it, this man might have reasons not to think of the police as his friends.  When cops patrol the 'hood, they generally go in pairs, and there are places they won't go no matter what.  As a Detroit cop said when asked why he wasn't doing something about vandals stripping copper out of a building, "I ain't goin' in there, I'd get shot."

The cops figure that most every hoodie is either on welfare, which costs the city money, or dealing drugs which leads to criminal activity they have to try to contain.  Could it be that cops develop a somewhat unfavorable attitude toward people in the 'hood?  Is it possible that dope dealers and muggers think of law enforcement as unreasonable interference in their pursuit of an honest profit?

It may be that there were simply too many longstanding emotional barriers between Mr. Hernandez and the police for him to ask them for help, no matter what was threatening him.  He seems to have thought he had to handle his troubles himself.

The 120 MPH Chase

After Mr. Hernandez' arrest, the papers told of the police pulling over an SUV after a 120-MPH chase.  Mr. Hernandez was in the passenger seat.  "It's all right, officer," he's reported to have said, "I'm Aaron Hernandez."

I thought that he might have gotten a glimmer of the notion that now that he was paying taxes, the police would have a different attitude toward him.

My friends who're sports fans assert that this was just another manifestation of our longstanding practice of cutting sports heroes generous slack.  Although Mr. Vick got in trouble for dogfighting, college players have gotten away with rape, theft, and other misbehaviors that would put lesser beings in jail forever.  My sports friends believe that Mr. Hernandez was totally alienated from the police but that he expected that his aura of sports hero would take care of a minor matter like speeding.

This isn't all that unusual.  The NFL web site told how an Indianapolis Colts rookie safety was charged with disorderly public drunkenness and resisting law enforcement after an "altercation" with police:

"You can't arrest me, I'm a Colts player," Boyett repeatedly told the officers, according to The Indianapolis Star, citing an a police report that described the 23-year-old's behavior as "very abusive."

He later threatened a police officer, saying he was "going to come back and break your jaw," according to the report.

Professional sports seems to be a continuation of the 'hood - players regard cops as engaging in unwarranted interferense with their legitimate pursuits.  Why do we idolize these guys?.

The 'Hood Will Getcha If You Don't Watch Out

To check further, I asked a person I know who managed to escape the 'hood.  Her dad left her mother when she was quite young and they moved into the projects.  One of her childhod friends was shot in a gang conflict.  She was raped.  Her mother worked very hard and finally earned enough money to leave the projects.  She left the 'hood and went to college, but the memories stayed.

When I asked her why Mr. Hernandez didn't ask the cops for help, she said, "You gotta be kidding.  All the cops I ever knew were on the take.  If any strange kid can come to town and score drugs, don't you think the cops know who's dealing?  No way he'd ever talk to the cops."

The 'Hood and the Cops

If my friends are correct in thinking that significant numbers of hoodies are totally alienated from the police, we have a real problem.  If entire neighborhoods are growing up with no regard for law, we're going to have to deal with many, many people who're a total drain on society.

What's more, they're armed and dangerous.  Guns have been common in the 'hood for generations.

No less an apostle of nonviolent protest than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in his right to keep and bear arms.  In "MLK and His Guns," the Huffington Post reports:

Most people think King would be the last person to own a gun.  Yet in the mid-1950s, as the civil rights movement heated up, King kept firearms for self-protection.  In fact, he even applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

A recipient of constant death threats, King had armed supporters take turns guarding his home and family.

... Glenn Smiley, an adviser to King, described King's home as "an arsenal."

Mr. Hernandez had no trouble getting hold of enough guns to shoot up a car and then to kill a man who was bothering him.  If his willingness to take violent action instead of involving the police when he felt threatened is a common attitude among people of his background, we're in for a lot of trouble.

This article was reprinted from a different site. Commentary may be added.  Read other articles by Guest Editorial or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

You got it backward. The 'hood is a dysfunctional, toxic culture, and pro sports is an extension of it, not an exit from it.

June 22, 2016 4:37 PM
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