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Tyrann Mathieu Right In
Blaming Culture For Violence

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Image by The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
The Arizona Cardinals Star Is Outspoken About Gun Violence And The Plight of Disenfranchised Youth In His Hometown of New Orleans

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By Waddell Howard Jr.
Special for Modern Times Magazine

May 16, 2016 — Tyrann Mathieu has made noise on the collegiate and professional levels of football because of his intense, relentless, tenacious style of play that prompted the nickname “Honey Badger,” an animal with characteristics that match Mathieu’s bravado on the football field. But now Mathieu, a one-time Heisman candidate and former LSU standout, has generated attention for his off the field comments related to the conditions that hinder and plague his hometown of New Orleans.

In response to the shooting death of Will Smith, a former Saints player and active member of the New Orleans community, the Arizona Cardinals safety tweeted his thoughts about the then-suspected shooter Cardell Hayes (Hayes has since been indicted by a New Orleans grand jury), whom Mathieu knows from his past in the city. He tweeted that the man had always been a “hating ass coward, never knew he would grow up to be a killer though.”

This sentiment characterizes a string of emotionally-charged statements Mathieu released through social media that ranged from mourning Smith to lamenting gun violence in his home state, which leads the nation in gun deaths per capita, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2011.

There has been a visceral response to Mathieu’s comments, both in the media and online and Mathieu has even received death threats in response to his initial thoughts on Smith’s murder.

Despite this, Mathieu had the audacity to speak out about a huge issue that plagues inner cities across the nation and the need for change. As  a native of New Orleans, he has witnessed the violence, the corruption, the pain that the “Big Easy” consequently produces in the form of gun violence.

Mathieu has used social media to speak out about the issue and recently did an interview on NFL Network and stood as a voice crying out in the wilderness for the people of that great city and primarily the youth. This is a courageous stance that is to be applauded, because it comes at a time when athletes, entertainers, and musicians are very leery and careful of rocking the boat or upsetting their fan bases, teams and potential sponsors.

Yet, Mathieu used his position as a prominent professional football player as a means to shed light on the issues that he as a person feels are of worth and should be examined more in depth. In his interview with NFL Network, Mathieu went beyond gun violence and spoke about the lack of resources available to children growing up in the city and the neglect shown by those in political power when it comes to providing necessary services to these children and their families.

Mathieu stated in his interview that “there is nothing for these kids to do, there’s no programs, there’s nothing for these kids to do after school, but to hang on the corner with gangbangers, with drug dealers and those are the people that they begin to look up to”, and added “me I’m going to continue to speak out, I’m going to continue to raise awareness about this and I think this is the perfect time for me to get started with my foundation.”

Mathieu backed these thoughts by his previous Twitter post that read: “Until y’all get them crooks out of office and until y’all give these kids something constructive to do, the violence will continue to grow!” Mathieu wrote.

“They can’t go to parks like I was able to, because the grass ain’t cut & the rims have no nets nor do they even have rims. The budgets cutting into education, recreation and everything else that is VITAL to a kid having success. Not to mention half of their fathers are in prison. So this isn’t coming from an angry place but from a person who has made it out! All they have is music to influence them, and if you listen closely to music now a days, it’s brainwashing them to believe drugs and killing are the cool thing to do which is why I’m dropping an album… Cause that s–t ain’t cool, cool is being a father and being able to provide. Cool is facing adversity and having GOD having a place in your heart and world. Cool is handling things like men not like cowards. I’m at peace… I’m going to church to pray for all y’all.”

Mathieu’s statements are riveting and carry real weight, because he’s speaking from a position of experience. His statements shake the very foundation of those looking to carry on with business as usual. Mathieu, whose father was imprisoned, was raised by his aunt and uncle who adopted him at the age of five, and was reared in New Orleans. He knows the struggle of trying to escape being a statistic all too well and the cycle of criminality and violence that children can fall into without proper support. He knows what the youth of New Orleans and others in the inner cities of our nation go through because he’s lived it.  

Mathieu also knows that time is of essence and the “handwriting is on the wall”. Just last year there were 164 murders in the City of New Orleans as well as 252 non-fatal shootings that occurred, as reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Those 164 murders that occurred last year must hit very close to home for Mathieu because he still has family and friends who reside in that city and he obviously holds the community there close to his heart.

At the same time, the violence in the city makes it a dangerous place for youth. Those close to Mathieu such as Dell Lee, his former coach at St. Augustine High School, reiterated the fact that New Orleans is a dangerous and often time place of limited mobility. In a 2013 article posted by the Arizona Cardinals organization Lee said that “There are a lot of high school kids that I have pushed away from here. There are coaches who have told players, ‘Get away from here for a minute, go out and see some things. Find out what life is like outside of New Orleans.’”

He continued, “I’m not saying this is a bad city, but for youth, sometimes things can get tough and kids can get sidetracked. I thought it was good for him to get away, and start his career and not be around anything that was reminiscent of anything negative.”

Mathieu may have escaped the city, but he knows that there needs to be something done to make it a more livable, safe environment for the next generation. He represents a rare breed celebrity that take a personal responsibility in speaking out against prevalent issues that shape our society, and, in this case, plague humanity and threaten the very lives of many citizens of New Orleans and other inner cities. The strong stance that Mathieu takes is admirable and one that is worth examining.

He begs a serious question: Are the youth being manipulated by forces that will eventually lead to their demise? Mathieu touches on this when he says that “if you listen to music now a days it’s brainwashing them to believe drugs and killing are the cool thing to do.”

I will take it a step further. Our culture in this country shows us images and signs of something akin to a modern day Babylon. Many of the heroes of the day are not social workers, teachers, doctors, civil rights activists, or the men and women in law enforcement who put their life on the line to keep order and peace in society (specifically, those officers who are ethical and do not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, or economic identities). Rather today’s heroes are the exact opposite: Reality TV stars; ruthless, ultra-violent, glorified and extensively hyped criminals; outspoken and often misguided leaders of the quote unquote ‘people’; white-collared wolves and political pundits who spew hatred and maraud themselves in a grandiose display on wall street and tabloids all over our country; and controlled entertainers who push a concealed agenda.

Mathieu also seems to understand that it is not just the music and the role models that are crippling the youth in New Orleans and our major cities across the nation. When government figures and community leaders turn their backs on the communities they are supposed to represent, cleaning up these communities becomes an uphill battle. When youth in inner cities are not even guaranteed clean drinking water, and a safe and comfortable living environment free of graffiti on walls, a slew of broken down or abandoned buildings, they can lose hope. This environment is causing resentment, anxiety, and a blasé frame of mind.

Mathieu has his demons. His struggles with drug abuse are well documented. But, rather than let those struggles beat him, he has taken responsibility for his actions and chose to better his life. He is living proof that the cycle of violence and criminality that haunts so many youth in New Orleans does not have to defeat them.

Mathieu  is interested in changing this dynamic in his city from the inside out. And I, amongst others, applaud him. It is a dangerous task and will be arduous, but it will provide a pillar of positivity that could create a culture of prosperity and incite hope in a city full of hopelessness.  As Mathieu is learning, taking a stand against injustice is not always the most popular or the coolest thing to do. It is not easy to walk in that path; however, if he continues to walk it, he will be blazing a trail for others to take as New Orleans strives to become a safer, healthier community.
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