Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and his twin brother Maurkice (also a center, for the Pittsburgh Steelers) joined the short list of pro athletes supporting former New England Patriots tight end and murder suspect Aaron Hernandez.
The Pounceys were photographed Saturday night at their birthday party wearing hats that read "Free Hernandez." The two were college teammates of Hernandez at the University of Florida.
On June 26 Hernandez was charged with the first-degree murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player and friend of Hernandez. The Patriots released Hernandez the same day.
Hernandez pleaded not guilty and is currently being held without bail while awaiting trial. If convicted, he could face life in prison with no parole.
Mike Pouncey was Hernandez' roommate at UF. Hernandez attended Florida from 2007 to 2009, while Pouncey was there from 2007 to 2010.
NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk approached the Dolphins seeking comment on the photo, but the team declined to comment.
"If the Pouncey brothers want to take the minority opinion, I have nothing against it," former Miami Dolphins and Florida Gators linebacker Channing Crowder said Monday on his radio talk show.
"They work for people who the public perception depends on their business, it's totally inappropriate, I don't see how you can't see that, it's inappropriate," said one caller to the "Kup & Crowder Show" on 560 WQAM, addressing Crowder specifically, arguing that the Pouncey brothers' decision to wear the hats was insensitive to the victim's family in the Hernandez case.
"When I played, 10 years ago, if there was Twitter, I know I'd have been suspended for games," Crowder said, pointing out that young athletes often act impetuously, without fully thinking of the consequences of their actions.
Maurkice Pouncey apologized for the incident Monday morning. On Twitter, he said, "I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my actions appear to make light of that serious situation. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions."
Pouncey and his brother were celebrating their 24th birthday, which isn't until July 24. The Dolphins drafted Mike Pouncey in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Maurkice Pouncey was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft by the Steelers, having skipped his senior season to turn pro a year early.
Mike Pouncey made the NFL All-Rookie team in 2011, and was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2012.
"Mike and Aaron were roommates their freshman year at Florida, so this is a brother to him," Crowder said.
According to Crowder, in that context, it doesn't make sense to apologize for the hats, as Maurkice Pouncey has.
"That's my problem with this story, stick with it, have a justification about it, I did this because he hasn't been proven guilty yet, I believe in the court system and I'm gonna wait for them to convict him before I go with everyone else," crowder said.
Assistant Professor Peter Finley, who teaches sports management at Nova Southeastern University, said the photos of the Pouncey brothers make for a teachable moment.
"The challenging thing in professional sports is that Twitter is working the way that it's supposed to work," Dr. Finley said. "It's taking away the filter that normally existed between the athlete and the fan and we're getting to see that some of these athletes are not the people we thought they would be."
Finley said all professional athletes should adopt Crowder's strategy, which is to never tweet in anger, and to always consider a tweet's implications carefully before clicking the "send" button.