If one more person references “keeping it real” with regard to Aaron Hernandez, sports journalism needs to shut down for a day.
Self-imposed ban for idiocy.
Never before has such a ridiculous phrase received more traction than “keeping it real” has in the aftermath of the former Patriots tight end being accused of murdering a buddy “execution-style.” Because what is more real than that? Hernandez allegedly leading a dual existence of touchdown-catching and murdering rather absurdly has become a jumping-off point for debate on how hard it is to leave behind how you grew up and whom you grew up with.
This is depressingly pessimistic, the inference that a person cannot escape his beginnings. It is also intellectually dishonest. The NFL, sports and life are filled with up-from-the-roaches tales of guys who escaped whatever was in their past and reached back — not to be pulled down but rather to lift up others. This is at the very heart of the American Dream.
The "keeping it real" patois is the opposite of that. Aaron Hernandez was not popping caps – allegedly — into what now might be five dudes after being linked to an investigation of the wounding of two men in 2007 in Florida for any other reason than he thought he was invincible and this invincibility extended all the way to murdering. This has almost zero to do with where or how or with whom he grew up.
This is not about staying true to where you came from or loyal to your peeps. As we have seen again and again, that loyalty is not repaid anyway. There are what I like to refer to as Ray Lewis Friends and Mike Vick Friends. What exactly went down in that limo in Atlanta is mere speculation because Lewis’ friends never rolled on him whereas Vick’s boys were all too happy to drop him in the grease as if he single-handedly thought up, orchestrated and executed that dog-killing craziness by himself.
What Odin Lloyd’s death most definitely is not about, though, is Hernandez feeling pressure to “keep it real.”
I realize this is dangerous territory, especially for a white girl who grew up on the mean streets of Country Club Drive. What do I know about this pressure, right?
What I do know for sure is we have to get real.
The NFL season is about to start. Another group of young players is about to start drowning in cash and choices — make it rain or make it DRIP (also known as dividend reinvestment plans for all of you non-stock-market types), to hang on to where they came from or get busy going where they are going, or in the rare case enjoy their five-year, almost 40-million-dollar deal or kill a guy for talking to your “enemies.”
There is a discussion to be had around Hernandez beyond what an absolute sociopathic d-bag he is and how crazy it is that he successfully balanced killing dudes (allegedly) with staying in Bill Belichick’s good graces until, of course, the whole murder thing came out and now Belichick probably wants to go all Aaron Hernandez on Hernandez for a) leaving him with Tim Tebow as his best tight end, b) making it so he actually looks forward to Tebow questions and c) for giving everybody a reason to snark on The Patriot Way.
Actually, the last part probably makes Belichick giggle when he is alone. He absolutely knows The Patriot Way is the way of the NFL and corporate America and Junior League. Everybody is willing to put up with the borderline psycho so long as the talent is greater than the headache.
The better discussion, and what really stands to help players instead of another Pacman “don’t get in trouble with the law — wait, I’m back in trouble with the law” symposium for NFL rookies, is how to actually keep it real.
1) Go through your friends list, just like 40-year-olds often do with Facebook on a boring Friday at home. Anybody with an unregistered gun, a drug hookup, a business for you to invest in, a real need to borrow money or a willingness to tell you what want to hear instead of what you need to know is gone. You wave to them when you go back home, you ask about their mom, you sign a jersey. What you do not do, under any circumstances, is hang out with them. This is real. This is protecting your brand, your Benjamins, your family. This also allows you to keep your real friends: The guy who is not afraid to say, “They threw to you plenty,” or “I’m driving, you had too much to drink,” or “C’mon, man, we are not shooting anybody tonight. That is stupid.” Also keep guys who begin sentences with “So at work today …”
2) What if they say, “you changed”? The simple answer is, “why yes, yes, I have.” Do you know what I was doing when I was 17? Driving past this dude Kelly’s house that I had a crush on. We’d turn off the lights on my car and cruise down his street in hopes of seeing if he was home. It was kind of psycho back then. It is stalker files now. The things you do when you are 17 are totally different than when you are in your 20s and 30s and have money and family and a thriving NFL career to think about. This is the craziest thing to me, when I hear NFL players talk about their friends accusing them of changing. Like this is a bad thing.
3) You are not more real if you a) have an unregistered gun, b) have a crew, c) worry about being respected, d) do any or all of the above after midnight.
I bumped into a Dallas Cowboys player in Vegas recently. He told me the best advice he ever got was from coach Bill Parcells. Take care of your money and go home before midnight. Nothing good ever happens in a club after midnight. If you want a stripper, install a pole at your house. And really what could be more real than a stripper pole at your house?
That is keeping it real. Everything else is just B.S.