By Efrain Nieves
Without any intent of generalizing, if we ask boys growing up in the inner cities what success means to them chances are that they will answer “playing football like Victor Cruz, Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor or playing basketball like Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony. But yet there are some boys whose role models are not athletes but the guys on the street that everyone fears. A mind set tied to the old ways of living by the street code that few overcome. A mentality that leads our boys to ignore any great opportunities laid out at their feet because, let’s face it, it is hard to give it up when everyone around you seems to think the same.
What am I referring to? You see it’s not enough to physically remove ourselves from the ‘hood, we must also break free from the tendencies to live by the street code. We must break free from the “gangster” persona that the street begets.
Such is the story of Aaron Hernandez, the former Tight End for the New England Patriots, Hernandez, as it has been widely publicized, has been indicted in the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd and to a 2012 double homicide at a Boston night club.
What went wrong you may ask?
Hypothesis and “cuentos” of what derailed Hernandez from stardom abound. So here is what I believe went wrong. Despite having an opportunity that, no pun intended, most of us would kill for, Aaron Hernandez’s mentality did not evolve along with his promising football career. I mean, Hernandez was the first Latino to sign with an NFL team that could boast of having received a $40 million contract. His was the fairy tale story that many a boy in the hood has dreamed of. Boys like my cousins and me who would play football despite those typical New England days where even the grass is unforgivably cold.
Our boyhood dreams of becoming professional football players became a reality through Hernandez. I found it unbelievable that he was from my home state of Connecticut and played with the New England Patriots who are my favorite team, But it was the fact that he was a Puerto Riqueño, “un boricua”, representing and helping us fend off the stereotypes that prompted my sense of pride. “He beat the ‘hood mentality” was my thought. Seeing Aaron Hernandez play was inspiring. Yes, he was like family!
Since the day of his arrest I have thought of writing about how I felt but just couldn’t put the words together. I have so many questions.
- Didn’t he realize how important his role in history, our history, was?
- Didn’t he realize how his actions would hurt his community, his family and our boys that looked up to him?
We barely, if ever, read or hear about the good our people are doing in the news. But stories like Hernandez’s receive front page publicity not because, allegedly he killed a friend, but to feed the division and discrimination burning red in our country. That is what went wrong with Aaron Hernandez: he gave in to the stereotypes. It was not good enough to earn a living doing what he loved, he needed to make a name for himself in the streets. In the case of Hernandez such behavior cost him his place in history as a role model.
Therefore, let this be a lesson for all young athletes trying to make it big. It’s not about where you come from, it’s about how you deal with the financial and emotional change that wealth can bring when you grow up poor and suddenly the world returns all sort of vices in a silver platter. Remain vigilant since that’s the unwritten street code that should prevail.
Pa’lante Latino showcases current events in the arts, entertainment, politics, and culture as it affects our community. Above all, we are ferocious advocates of the contributions that Hispanics/Latinos have made to the United States and feature articles based on historical facts to reaffirm our relevance. Please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.