As soon as the jury found Aaron Hernandez guilty of murder this morning, I braced for all the bad ideas that were going to be written down. I even invented imaginary takes: the announcement of the Bruins firing their GM came about 15 minutes later, for instance—surely someone would make an ill-advised attempt to tie the two together? (“In the same way Aaron Hernandez dispatched Odin Lloyd, the Bruins dispatched Peter Chiarelli today...”) The real thing turned out to be crazier than I could have imagined.
Today is the two-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings committed by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and unfortunately for all of us, Bloomberg View’s Noah Feldman was well aware of that. You know where he’s going as soon as he starts clearing his throat: Look over here, I’ve got Boston thoughts.
If that charge also turns out to be true, then Hernandez killed almost as many people as the Tsarnaev brothers who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing two years ago today. Because the Tsarnaevs’ crime was terrorism, they also permanently injured many more people, and their subsequent actions led to a multicity lockdown that involved hundreds of thousands. The crimes therefore aren’t precisely analogous.
These are two very different crimes and don’t really have much in common at all. Naturally there’s a “yet,” because this is A Column:
Yet there is an uncomfortable and complicated relationship between the two cases and their chronologically twinned trials. Both in different ways forced Bostonians to think the unthinkable: that homegrown terrorists could be nurtured in our midst, and that the athletic heroes whom we worship could actually be sociopathic killers. Both of these unthinkable thoughts go to the core of what gives Boston its distinctive identity in the early 21st century.
Okay, still, this a really bad comparison, limited to geography and ... the idea that we don’t know who criminals are until they’re caught committing criminal acts, I guess? Feldman seems to wonder how Boston could produce bad people. This is a straw-city argument; everywhere produces bad people. But in his attempt to spotlight Boston, he presses on with the idea of collective guilt with this whopper (emphasis mine):
It would be easy to say that we Bostonians aren’t implicated in Hernandez’s crimes, because we were ignorant of them. But that seems much too easy. The problem isn’t just that Hernandez had a modestly checkered past as a college player at the University of Florida, where he was questioned in connection with a shooting and got a deferred prosecution after a bar brawl. The Patriots under Bill Belichick have a well-known record of hiring formerly troubled players who then play well and live as good citizens.
No, it’s actually pretty easy to say Bostonians had no part in Hernandez’s crime, because they didn’t.
But why does Feldman believe some 650,000 residents abetted murder? Because many people in Boston really like sports (true), he argues, maybe more than other cities (probably not true), especially after the Boston Marathon bombing, when we turned to sports as a remedy to forget. Look out, here comes the “Boston Strong” tie-in:
This more-than-adulation of our athletes was on view after the marathon attacks. The “Boston Strong” motif was worn and recited by citizens proudly wearing Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots gear — literally the uniforms of our civic belonging. By far the most effective public spokesman for Boston in that post-marathon moment was Red Sox great David Ortiz, who memorably announced in front of a full Fenway crowd that “this is our [expletive] city.”
And then a trip to an alternate universe:
What if it had been Aaron Hernandez who had said that?
What if the Tuck Rule game didn’t happen? What if someone caught Bill Belichick burying a body in Walpole? I don’t know, guy. A lot of things would have been different.
Feldman feels ashamed to have supported a man who turned out to be a murderer, and now he’s processing it. A lot of people feel the same way. It’s fine to feel guilty after the fact, but that’s normal and human, and the normal, human reaction is to realize that even though you might feel bad, you couldn’t have known. I previously wrote about playing as Hernandez in a video game, and drew the conclusion that while I wasn’t significantly affected, other people might have had different reactions. It was a room-temperature take that was infinitely more true than Noah Feldman’s belief that anyone other than Aaron Hernandez is guilty of murdering Odin Lloyd.
Disclosure: Author is a Patriots fan and is not guilty of accessory to murder.
Photo via The Chive