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NFL needs to get tough on gun ownership

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published July 10. 2013 4:00AM

Even if the apocryphal station wagon filled with nuns burst into court and testified on Aaron Hernandez's behalf he was praying with Mother Superior at the soup kitchen on the infamous early morning in question the erstwhile tight end would remain up to his shoulder pads in legal issues.

That's because the Hernandez story is as much about guns as it is about murder.

And maybe it's a catalyst for Step One toward monitoring the proliferation of guns in professional sports, or at least the National Football League.

OK. Some of you, especially the ones with Second Amendment memorized, have already rolled your eyes. Here comes another idealistic twit with a gun story.

Do me a favor: Drop the affectation that your love for guns automatically qualifies you for persecution. Let's take a chance at finding some common ground on the village green when this is over.

Deal?

Law enforcement officials found Hernandez with an alarming number of unlicensed guns and large-capacity firearms without a firearms identification card during their investigation.

Surely, we would agree that carrying unlicensed guns and large-capacity firearms without a firearms identification card aren't precepts for a safer, more progressive society.

Which invites the question: What can be done?

I asked two professional football players the question. One has played in the NFL for several years now and one is recently retired. They know the culture of the league.

My question: What would happen if Roger Goodell approached the Players' Association with a modest proposal for the next collective bargaining agreement: suspensions without pay in varying degrees for anyone caught with an unlicensed gun, all the way up to the full Hernandez.

Both players laughed.

The implication: You really have no idea, do you?

Essentially, their message: There are so many guns out there among NFL players, the Players' Association would never allow punitive restrictions. I suggested that perhaps Goodell make it public if the players balk, thus creating a public relations issue. Their response: Goodell doesn't want to admit that the league is awash in weaponry.

I doubt many of us would view that a stunning upset.

"I think it's got to start with rookies at the rookie orientation," one player said. "I think they should do all the orientations at San Quentin. Shock value. That's how you get through to them. Not having Pacman Jones stand up in front of them and tell them 'don't do what I did.' Nobody ever identifies with that."

It should be noted that the same weekend as Odin Lloyd's funeral, police found Joe Lefeged of the Indianapolis Colts in possession of a $900 unregistered semi-automatic weapon in a car stopped by the police in Washington, D.C.

Once we sigh and offer an absorbing, "when will they ever learn?" we should realize this is a gun story that won't end until the league starts fighting the fight. Same goes for Bud Selig, Gary Bettman and David Stern.

But who has the stones to stand up and do it?

I'm the first to admit ignorance about the culture of professional team sports. But I do know that most pro athletes have access to team-sponsored security personnel and car services, thus making some of the choices they make confusing to us here in the proletariat.

And I also understand that I live in a region that is largely uneducated about guns and gun ownership. Guns are part of every day life in other areas of the country. We'd do well here to educate ourselves more.

In the meantime, though, societal norms have boundaries. And while gun advocates are big on semantics, let's leave it here: You either have the proper paperwork for your gun and a legal carry permit for the state in question or you don't. And if you don't, you need to sit for a while without pay. And a second offense? As Michael Kay likes to say: see ya.

It's hard not to sound preachy or like some dope from Utopia on this issue. But even if there's an unspoken culture of the NFL that we among the great unwashed don't get, we get this: Guns have their place. Just not unregistered, unlicensed and waved around like in an episode of Gunsmoke.

Goodell needs to challenge the players.

Because it's not a question of "if" another Aaron Hernandez happens. It's when.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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