Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey apologized Monday morning on his Twitter account for wearing a "Free Hernandez" hat at a party over the weekend.
Pouncey, the Steelers' 2010 first-round draft choice and a three-time Pro Bowler, was a college teammate at the University of Florida with Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who is accused of murder in Massachusetts.
"I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate," Pouncey wrote. "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 twin brother, Mike, were photographed wearing the hats at an early birthday celebration in Miami. Their birthday is July 24, two days before the Steelers report to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. The pictures first surfaced on deadspin.com. The Steelers continued to have no comment.
The relationship between Pouncey and Hernandez dates to 2007 when they were freshmen at Florida. Mike Pouncey, who plays center for the Miami Dolphins, roomed with Hernandez.
According to ESPN, in addition to the Massachusetts slaying of Odin Lloyd, Hernandez is being investigated for a September 2007 shooting that left two men wounded in Gainesville, Fla.
According to the police report obtained by ESPN, the Pouncey twins were with Hernandez at a nightclub the night of the shooting.
The report says a man fitting Hernandez's description fired five shots into a car while it was stopped at a red light Sept. 30, 2007, which would have been hours after the Gators lost their first game of the 2007 season to Auburn, 20-17.
Also at the nightclub that night with the Pouncey twins and Hernandez was Reggie Nelson, another former Florida player who, at the time, was playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
According to a police report, Randall Cason, who was part of the altercation, said the group of football players tried to snatch a gold necklace from his neck but failed because the necklace was too thick. Cason later rescinded his identification of Hernandez and Nelson as being involved in the shooting.
Nelson, who plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, was interviewed by police. His version of the story stated that one of the Pouncey twins had a necklace snatched by Cason.
Maurkice Pouncey is entering his fourth season with the Steelers. He became a starter as a rookie and has earned three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.