I type this after being bombarded with headlines about Patriots player Aaron Hernandez being arrested for murder and other charges. Before I go any further, in the interest of honesty and ethics, I feel that I should tell you that he was once a neighborhood kid who played in my yard and who paled around with my Kiddo, played videogames and ate his share of pasta. I knew him, I know his mumma and she is a wonderful person and parent as well as a colleague who adores her children. I will not pretend that we are close; it has been years since I have seen him and I am sure neither of us gave it a second thought.
I have heard folks already picking sides in this case. Some are demonizing him; some making him out to be the second coming. As for me, I have no idea of his innocence or guilt; that is for the courts to decide. As a father, clinical professional and as a person who loves forensic psychology I will likely follow this case to a degree. I hope that the kid I once knew is innocent but no matter the outcome, lives have been shattered, some will never recover and at least one has been lost.
I don’t know anything about Odin Lloyd but he was somebody’s son. My heart goes out to those who loved him. He was so young and had so much potential. He did not deserve to die and whoever is responsible for his murder should receive no mercy. Such a tragedy; another senseless gun death; another lost youth.
This is not a blog about a shooting. It is not a blog about Aaron nor is it about Odin. Instead this blog is about the misplayed hero worship, the misplaced loyalties and the overall behavior of society at large to place people up on a pedestal in an effort to make them heroes’ deserving of special treatment because they excel in sports or other popular pastimes. As our children grow and develop skills society has a tendency to place a value on them. Depending on the setting being overly intelligent is seen as a gift or as useless. Depending on the setting, being able to throw a ball, make a basket or tackle a person to the ground can be a cool hobby or the ultimate gift deserving of all that the world can offer.
I remember in High School seeing a talented wrestler and football player who was either captain or co captain of his teams get mixed up in a violent fist fight in the lunch hall. I have no idea how it started or who started it for that matter as I was not there for the start because I was in the lunch line, but what I vividly remember is that several staff members were diligently trying to separate this sports hero from the boy he was pummeling. As they pulled, he punched, as their hands slipped he jumped back upon his beaten foe and pummeled him some more until finally he was yanked away for good. I did not see the beaten up kid for awhile, rumor had it that he was suspended but the athlete was back in class as if nothing happened. No games or meets were missed. It appeared that he was untouchable.
With the rise of violent felony charges that we have seen in the last few decades at the hands of professional athletes, I wonder how much of this comes at least indirectly from the way society makes heroes out of and gives “passes” to all but the most serious crimes IF you posses the athletic ability to contribute to the win column? If one can pummel another student and be in class the next day and not miss a sporting event, does it not send a message to them and to those around them that they should be able to do what they want? Does it not encourage them to continue with this type of behavior? Does it do anything at all to discourage this type of behavior? Should it surprise us that some of these folks escalate to the point of murder? If you are taught that the rules do not apply to you and you lack self control, or are even praised for your brutality during a game, is it a big leap to think that you could do more?
If we as a society make heroes of those who perform on the field, shouldn’t we at least consider their actions off of it as well?
I belong to the oldest fraternity in the world. I waited to apply until I felt I had made positive contributions to society and even then I was unsure if I would be accepted. I remember taking my oaths as part of working through my degrees. I remember being told that in the lodge there are no doctors, no rich and no poor; there are only brothers about the lodge who have sworn to live life upon the level, to offer square deals and to live a good life where you spend time in pursuit of providing for your family, making an impact on society and helping those in distress. When I became a Templar they further instilled the need to help our fellow man. Instead of being treated as part of an elite group that allowed us to get away with breaking rules, we are instead taught that as men who aim to be pillars of the community that it is our duty to live honestly, serve with humility and to hold ourselves to the highest standards possible. In short, we were not heroes to be admired but humble servants that lead by example.
I have been approached by folks from time to time who have asked me what I would do as a Master Mason, Royal Arch Mason, York and Scottish Rite as well as a Knight Templar if I saw a fellow Mason commit a terrible act. They asked if I would see to it that they be spared arrest or otherwise avoid trouble due to our “secret oaths and promises.” Some further asked that if a Mason is in court and the Judge was also a Mason that we were duty bound to see that person go free. My reply to those questions is that just the opposite would occur. You see, as a Mason we are not heroes but again, servants who took an oath to do good. Should a Mason break his oath, should he break a law, he will not be protected but instead he will be expected to expect no quarter be spared and accept whatever penalties fit his crime. As a Mason we expect more, not less from one another. No one gets a free pass.
Perhaps we should adopt this mindset with sports, musicians, actors and anyone who is in the public eye. Instead of giving them wide births, perhaps we would help them, help society in general by expecting them to not only follow the rules of society but to be the heroes that they are supposed to be. No more free rides when you are rude, assaultive or otherwise unbecoming of a person in your standing you need to own your actions, take responsibility and do your best to make it right. To borrow from comic philosophers, with great abilities come great responsibilities.
Should Aaron be guilty, do we as a society take a moment to wonder if we contributed to the belief that he could get away with such behavior? Should he be innocent, should we not ask the same question?
When my son was little I was watching him play outside while I was studying graduate work (my truest pleasure those days was when I could steal a few moments from studies to watch him play). There was an altercation with another boy who had hit him. My son responded with a hit of his own followed with another. (Being trained in martial arts he knew how to take care of himself if needed.) Upon seeing this I leapt from my chair and knocked on the window and told him to march his butt inside. I asked him what he thought he was doing and he responded that he was defending himself. I reminded him that the basic tenet of his training was that it was to be used as a defensive tool that was to be used only as a last resort and then only long enough to allow for his to leave the situation. His first move knocked his opponent down, which neutralized him, allowing my son to escape the situation. The second hit was nothing more than punitive and thus was in excess of his oath. He was directed to take a seat and to think about his actions and of the importance of keeping one’s word. His talent did not excuse any type of behavior and instead it held him to a higher standard. Now 23, I am proud of him and know that his word is in fact his bond. He is working in the mental health field after completing his BA in psychology. He earned his job without any outside assistance from his father and knows that he will have to pay his dues before he is invited to come work for the not for profit that I founded. He is a talented young man and because of that talent I expect him to serve as a positive example.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Odin, his family and friends as well as to the family and friends of Aaron. I hope that the boy who grew up with us is not responsible for what he has been charged with but if he is indeed guilty I pray that justice be swift. I further pray that we look long and hard at who our children are calling heroes and help guild them away from those who have lost their way and closer to those who live life upright. Heroes are not on the playing fields. They are found in the battle zones of life. They are those who are willing to sacrifice, defend, and risk their lives in the pursuit of making the world a bit better for our children. They leave their family so that they may protect yours in time of danger, they teach our children to read, do math and be good stewards to the planet that we inhabit ever so briefly. Say it isn’t so…
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).