Give Kenny Britt credit for a strong and enduring sense of self.
Whatever fame he has achieved, whatever wealth he has accumulated at this point in his life, the Tennessee Titans wide receiver never has turned his back on his South Jersey roots. No matter the risks to his person or his reputation — both seem to be plentiful — it is clear that he wants to go back as often as possible.
A lot of guys in his situation are quick — sometimes eager — to forget where they came from. Britt refreshes his memory often and in so doing creates anxiety for Titans executives, teammates and their fans pretty much every offseason.
It happened again last week because — as has become custom — his name turned up on a police report. It was detailed that he delivered a friend to a hospital emergency room so that friend could be treated for a non-fatal stab wound. A short time later in that same early morning, he was at a home where a gun was fired.
Had that been an isolated night in an otherwise insulated life, everyone would have talked about what a good, courageous friend he was. After all, he helped in what, obviously, was a dangerous situation. He did not, however, help himself because he initially refused to talk to police about what he knew took place, which made it seem as if he had something to hide.
Because of the lengthy list of legal entanglements — nine arrests during his NFL career — such an episode sets off alarms throughout Middle Tennessee as well as in New Jersey. Many saw it as the latest example of a guy who can’t seem to avoid trouble if not one who actively pursues it.
It is easy for those of us who grew up in relatively sheltered, middle class, suburban surroundings to suggest simply that Britt commit never to return to his home where stabbings and gun play are possible, where he all too regularly he finds himself in the company of those who run afoul of the law.
Why, we ask, would he even want to go back there?
The answer is simple: Because it’s home. His home.
Kenny Britt would not be Rutgers’ all-time leading receiver without the experiences he had in Bayonne and the surrounding communities. Kenny Britt might not be a first-round NFL draft choice without the encouragement, validation and support he received from the friends and associates of his youth, those who knew him when he did not have money and fame. Kenny Britt would not be the Kenny Britt he is had his circumstances been dramatically different.
For right or wrong, he understands that. And even though he now has a choice, he has no interest in becoming someone else regardless of what hardships he endured and potential problems he faces at home.
It brings to mind a line from Captain James T. Kirk:
Damn it Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!
There is any number of reasons for Britt to want to stay away from South Jersey. None of them outweigh the fact that it is what he knows and a part of who he is.
He is absolutely comfortable with himself … even if it means those here who have invested so much in him squirm and fret about what might happen when he’s not around.