At twenty-five, Aaron Hernandez has already seen his last days as a free man.
Even in a league as wild and sometimes surreal as the National Football League, the arrest and ultimate conviction of Aaron Hernandez for the murder of his close friend Odin Lloyd –for reasons that are still barely apparent– came as both a reality check and an unwanted surprise. While the verdict was not entirely unexpected, the rise and tragic fall of Hernandez should serve as a cautionary tale to those in positions of responsibility to step up and, while obviously not take responsibility for their players actions, at least try and help those characters who need saving from themselves. Not for one moment are we saying that the New England Patriots, Hernandez’ former employers, or the N.F.L. are in any way responsible for what could yet be turn out to be a series of violent crimes on the former tight end’s part. Still it’s hard to credit that Hernandez may have been involved in a life of violent crime – we’re not talking bar-room brawls here- while concurrently shining as a star throughout his entire career in the National Football League.
How did this all happen? How did a clearly troubled teenager morph gradually into a convicted murder under the presumptively watchful eye of, first the University of Florida, and then an N.F.L. franchise held in such high esteem? We can’t play moral judge or defamer here either but one can’t help but wonder how so many within these organisations failed to recognise that such a volatile, dangerous man was in their midst. For those who may be unaware – in addition to last week’s conviction in Massachusetts- Hernandez has been indicted, or formally charged, by a grand jury, for a double homicide shooting in the Boston neighbourhood of South End which took place in 2012. Not incidentally, the facts in that particular case also appear to be stacking up against the twenty-five-year-old Hernandez. Returning to the death of Odin Lloyd, the evidence before the court show that this was not some random act of violence or a crime of passion. Lead prosecutor William McCauley expertly utilised ballistic and forensic evidence which conveyed all the hallmarks of a gangland-style execution. Hernandez appears to be a quite simply, bad character but how could a sporting institution, particularly one such as the occasionally self-aggrandising New England Patriots, fail to even keep tabs on a man who they knew had previous off-field issues? Particularly when Hernandez’ home base of Hartford was little more than an hour from Foxborough, the home city to the New England Patriots.
Hernandez’ conviction comes at a time when players’ off-field activities seem to have hit an all-time low under the seemingly faux-caring eye of Roger Goodell, whose main goal seems to be making the already deep pockets of the thirty-two N.F.L. team owners fathomless. Goodell seems to take a pretty wide berth of player’s off-field activities – in his defence it is difficult to keep tabs when the competitors have roughly six months of down time each year- save for going for the jugular of those who commit that most savage sin of smoking weed. Last year, the Commissioner had to deal with the scandal surrounding Ray Rice viciously assaulting and knocking out his future wife in the lift of an Atlantic City casino. Next up was Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson facing charges of child abuse in his native state of Texas, a murky case with a murky outcome. Throw in domestic abuse charges rearing their head at an alarming rate and you can see why it might be in the interest of Goodell – who for the record earned $44.4 million last year – to focus as much of his attention on player welfare and behaviour, than on the burgeoning accounts of the sacred team owners. Goodell, to his credit though, must have been as shocked as the rest of America when Hernandez was arrested in connection with Odin Lloyd’s murder on 26th June 2013.
Hernandez life seems to have taken a downward spiral after the death of his father in 2006. The bond between father and son was, by all accounts, a deep and warm one but when father Dennis passed it seems his youngest son set off on a truly dark path. It goes without saying that people react to bereavement in markedly different manners, but if Hernandez had this –and there is no other word for this- malevolent streak in him, it is a shame that some dominant character somewhere in his life was not able to look past the outrageously talented athlete and see a highly troubled, aggressive youngster and try reaching out. Surely this man was not born a killer, so, how was he allowed slip down so many cracks before hitting absolute rock bottom?
Or are we being too lenient on Hernandez? Perhaps someone in his native Connecticut tried to help Hernandez. Or a college coach tried to steer him on the right path. Or maybe we’re just pushing out some dreamy nonsense about everybody having good in them when really we should be acknowledging that the protagonist alone should be held accountable for their actions. Still, we’re not buying the idea that a boy was born of Connecticut in 1989 with a killer’s blood already running through his veins. The extent of the New England Patriots hesitancy -financially driven of course- towards selecting Hernandez was in their decision to pick him in the fourth round of the annual college draft due to their reservations about Hernandez’ character. Teams don’t like when a first or second round pick becomes a ‘bust’ so Hernandez’ extra-curricular activities in Florida – at this point Hernandez had already tested positive for marijuana and far more seriously was alleged to have been involved in a double shooting in Gainesville, Florida- probably knocked him a rung or two down the ladder. Surely, by this time, if coach Bill Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft had serious concerns over the character and make-up of the then twenty-year-old one imagines they would have completely overlooked him. The reality is that right up until his arrest in 2013 Hernandez was a prized asset in his one-two tight end wrecking crew tandem with the ubiquitous Rob Gronkowski. He was just a year into a five-year $40 million contract.
Again let us be quite clear. The extremely well prepared prosecution case shows that it was Aaron Hernandez who drove with two friends, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace to the car park of an industrial estate and took Odin Lloyd’s life in a cold and detached manner, despatching bullets into the victim’s back. Rather disturbingly, CCTV footage has Hernandez and his accomplices enjoying smoothies by his swimming pool while the former plays with his infant daughter just hours after the killing. We just wonder how a man with so much potential and opportunity was able to transform into this animal. The murder of Odin Lloyd was tragic and- as with most murders in a country where many allege liberal gun laws do not contribute to a disturbing number of gun-related deaths- entirely avoidable. There are, of course, wider lessons to be learned from the grim tale of Aaron Hernandez but, given the circumstances, the nagging feeling that all of this could have been avoided will always remain.