Aaron Hernandez. (Wikimedia Commons/Jeffrey Beall)
Crime hysteria is as American as genetically modified apple pie. Whatever the rates of violent street crime in society, the existential threat of the black/brown youth predator can always be counted upon to repulse and titillate both the mass media and the popular consciousness.* The other all-consuming National Pastime centered on gawking at the black body in a spectrum of violence is the National Football League. Put these two together—crime hysteria and the NFL—and we have what can only be described as a cultural nocturnal emission.
Much ink has been spilled about the twenty-nine—yes twenty-nine (!)—NFL players who have been arrested since the Super Bowl. At the center of all the coverage is former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, accused of the premeditated execution of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. The details surrounding Lloyd’s murder get more ghastly by the day, but putting Hernandez’s photo at the center of a collage of the other twenty-eight arrested players makes it seem like there is some kind of violent, to quote one site, “NFL Crime Wave.” There is another serious case this off season of undrafted Cleveland Browns rookie Ausar Walcott who was arrested for attempted murder last Wednesday after punching a man outside of a New Jersey club. Outside of that, most of these twenty-nine arrests revolve around domestic disputes, marijuana possession, driving while intoxicated and even “drag racing.” I don’t want to make light about any of these issues (Except for the weed. I shall happily make light of that.) But attempts to create connective tissue between these incredibly disparate cases reeks of a highly racialized hysteria. You don’t have to be Cornel West to see the racial coding in articles like this one by Mark Madden that reads, “The Aaron Hernandez saga is hardly an isolated incident. It’s the latest chapter in pro football’s shameful litany. Gangsta culture perpetrating gangsta acts.”** Then there is NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton on Fox & Friends, babbling, “We cannot let thugs and criminals into the locker room!”