“As great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season.”
That was the quote made by Bill Belichick to the media following the all time historic comeback by the New England Patriots in Superbowl LI against the Falcons. It translates to no days off and epitomizes the mindset that is famously known as the ‘Patriot’s Way’ that their players all buy into. It is why Robert Kraft’s franchise has become the standard-bearer for class and the personification of success in modern era American sports. It is why, since 2000, they have won 14 division titles, made 11 AFC Championship game appearances, won 5 Superbowls and not had a single losing season.
It is also what made yesterday a terrible conclusion to a tragic story.
On a day where the Patriots finally get some time off to celebrate – Belichick apparently counts a visit to the White House as an acceptable reason not to work – their fantastic season their thoughts were probably all over the place. The team that had shown great character and togetherness to come back from 28-3 had been divided by differing opinions on the polarizing presidency of Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump.
Leaders of the defence Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty stayed away due to the racist nature of the current President whilst their future 1st ballot Hall of Fame quarterback – Tom Brady – was absent due to poor health of his mother.
With the exception of Gronkowski (who I don’t think ever experiences emotions other than joy), the mood of the squad was probably already more somber than it perhaps should have been upon visiting the White House to celebrate the greatest achievement of their careers before hearing about the alleged suicide of a murderous former teammate.
Aaron Hernandez, aged 27, should be well on the way to enshrining his name into the halls of Canton for eternity; instead the phenomenally talented footballer killed himself whilst facing a lifetime in a cage.
Hernandez, according to all reports and interviews with those who knew him, was a gifted athlete; dominant on a court and football field as a high school student. He also, following the death of his father (tragically due to medical complications following an operation) had a much darker side. He was often involved in the wrong crowds and getting himself into trouble which was why he tried to take himself away from that environment by taking up the scholarship offer from the Gators [University of Florida] to play under Urban Meyer; regarded as one of college footballs all time best coaches. Not only that, the QB throwing him passes was (and is) arguably the most straight-edged and best role model in all of sports; Tim Tebow. Even with these role models and a National Championship to boot, Hernandez managed to get himself in enough bother off the field – including an incident where he punched a bar employee and ruptured his eardrum – that most NFL teams completely removed him from their boards.
Hernandez, who on talent alone was an absolute first rounder, instead fell to the fourth round where he was drafted by the New England Patriots in the same class they picked up Rob Gronkowski. It was certainly seen as a huge risk given the serious questions raised about his character but he was going to the most stable organisation in a league with a troubled reputation. In fact, there was probably no place he’d have a better chance to reverse his life around than under the guidance of Bill Belichick who has managed to spot many diamonds hidden in the rough during his tenure:
- Donte Stallworth, WR – killed a man whilst DUI
- Aquib Talib, CB – assaulted a taxi driver, PEDs and charged for assault with a deadly weapon that was later dropped
- Brandon Spikes – PEDs
- Michael Floyd – DUI
- Randy Moss – marijuana arrests, dating violence issues, misdemeanor traffic violation
These are just a few of the many players with troubled pasts that Belichick took a chance on in order to build winning teams one after the other; some risks didn’t pay off and some like Moss were absolute jackpots!
For the first few seasons, Hernandez fell into the Randy Moss category. Combined with Rob Gronkowski he formed one of the NFL’s all time monstrous Tight End combinations helping the Patriots to the 2011 Superbowl where they lost yet again to Eli Manning’s Giants. His incredible production (1956 yards from 175 receptions and 18 touchdowns) earned him a $40 million contract with a $12.5million signing bonus.
Then it fell apart.
Aaron Hernandez was charged, convicted and sentenced to life without parole for the execution-style murder of Odin Lloyd; the boyfriend of Shayanna Jenkin’s (fiance of Aaron Hernandez) sister. He has also only recently beaten a charge of double murder for a shooting in Boston having hired the defender of alleged child murderer mum Casey Anthony.
In fact, Jose Baez [his new attorney] has suggested he could even overturn the conviction in appeal and so potentially the suicide, whilst utterly cowardly (especially with all that his wife and 4-year-old daughter have already gone through) at least mean Odin Lloyd’s family wont be dragged through a nightmare all over again; provided his lawyers don’t request his conviction be vacated via abatement ab initio.
Ultimately though, this was an irredeemable soul. As difficult as his childhood may have been either due to the environment or the tragic death of his father, his brother DJ Hernandez has seemingly become an honourable man; and yet another victim of his brother – in fact I strongly recommend reading the article with him featured on Sports Illustrated. There have also been far too many success stories orinating from difficult upbringings. League wide in the NFL there are players who have gone through unimaginable traumas and difficulties and if you doubt this you need only watch an E60 feature. It is the same with the NBA and even in our version of football, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both have incredibly humble backgrounds of extreme poverty before their rise to stardom.
Hernandez had more help than most though. Whether it was his brother, fantastic coaches on both collegiate or professional levels, fantastic locker room leaders/role models or the fatherly owner Bob Kraft he treacherously ‘duped’, he had every opportunity to escape the life he so desperately wanted to live. Rather than being a thug out of necessity to survive, he wanted it for the image as seen by the pictures he’s chosen to permanently etch on himself to represent that.
There are still those that like and even loved the man; you need only follow the Pouncey brothers (O-linemen in the NFL and College teammates of Hernandez) on instagram to see that. Certainly there must have been two separate sides to him. The man portrayed whilst interviewing thoroughly with Belichick and the organisation, convincing them of all people to take a chance on him had to be different to the man who poured 5 shots into a former friend and left him in a ditch. It’s why there are probably so many former teammates and acquaintances that find their minds searching for answers; the man truly was an enigma. A man of two separate lives. One who lived on the field catching touchdowns as a star and one who fought and murdered under the moon.
You often see the story labelled as a tragedy and in the way that Shakespearean tragedies are labelled or defined it certainly is; he had every chance to be another heroic story from the streets but he chose the path to downfall.
The death of Aaron Hernandez however is no tragedy. Instead, as rightly most discussions have, the thoughts and love should be with Odin Lloyd’s family and all the other victims left in this mans wake. I hope they can find peace and closure.