Keith Strudler: Aaron Hernandez
The main difference between yesterday and today for Aaron Hernandez is that yesterday he spent the night in his own house in Attleboro, Mass, not far from the stadium where he plays tight end for the New England Patriots. And today, he’s in the custody of the Massachusetts State Police, who arrested him in his home this morning in relation to the murder of Oden Lloyd, a 27 year-old semi-professional football player and acquaintance of Hernandez. So quite a difference a day makes.
The charges of the arrest won’t be revealed until his arraignment later today. We can likely start with obstruction of justice, since his lawyer turned in Hernandez’s cell phone to the cops in more pieces than a standard Lego set, and because Hernandez just happened to hire an industrial cleaner hours after the murder occurred. So either he’s very tidy, or he’s got something to hide. What’s not yet clear is if Hernandez will in fact be charged with the murder itself. While it doesn’t seem to look good for the 23 year-old football star, it’s hard to speculate on such affairs.
Still, it’s probably wrong to call this the calm before the storm. Sponsors have already dropped Hernandez, the Patriots escorted him from their practice facility, and there’s more reporters outside his house than you’d see at a Madonna wedding. Perhaps there’s no litigation as of yet, but let’s not imagine it a peaceful summer. More importantly, these events have spurred sports journalists to disclose Hernandez’s past transgressions, which had largely gone underreported, if not forgotten. Dating back to his high school days in Bristol, Connecticut, Hernandez has a rap sheet longer than an NFL playbook. At the University of Florida, Hernandez failed multiple drug tests and was tied to both fights and a shooting after a game. It was a red flag that pushed the gifted athlete all the way to the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft, far below someone of his accomplishment might go. There’s now a civil suit accusing Hernandez of shooting a man in the face outside a strip club in Florida last January.
And yet just last year, Hernandez signed a five-year deal with the Patriots that would pay him $40 million. All that stands to be null and void, one of several losses, human and fiscal, of the past week.
So the question right now isn’t whether he did it. None of us can answer that, as much as we can all suspect and assume. If Aaron Hernandez is in fact guilty of charges, he will suffer the consequences of his actions, which would seem an awful climax to a progression of illicit behavior. The question here, then, is whether the NFL should have done more. When the NFL recruits and hires talent, they know more about their employees than most people know about their spouse. Do you know how fast your husband can run the 40? See. And yet they soldier on, often in full knowledge that some of the top stars are barely legal, if that’s the right term. And then when something like this happens, which by the way seems increasingly plausible in the gun centric culture of the current NFL, we get fines and suspensions amidst a false sense of indignation.
Perhaps the league should consider its alternatives. Perhaps mandating a lower tolerance for violent offenders in the league, something that could trickle down to the college level as well. Perhaps a stronger stance on gun violence might create a different tone. And maybe the league commissioner should condemn someone’s behavior before it leads to this, like they could have done with Hernandez two years ago instead of today.
These are all vastly simple suggestions to an enormously complex problem. When a young adult with a violent streak is given money and fame because he can hit people, it’s like a blow torch at a gas station. I don’t know if there’s enough water to make that safe.
But in the end, fair or not, this will be an NFL problem, not just a personal one. Which means the NFL will be judged on its ability to curb future crimes like this. Perhaps that’s the price of being America’s pastime, with all the riches and cultural cache that comes with it. That’s true for the NFL, politicians, and pretty much anyone that makes money off our often irrational trust. And that’s true today, even more than it was just yesterday.
Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.
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