Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in connection with the death of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. Who knows how the case will play out and what the evidence authorities have will show?
Hernandez has a checkered past and pundits are asking the seemingly age-old question: Why can’t successful athletes leave their pasts behind when they reach the pros? Discussions about Aaron Hernandez quickly dovetail into stories about other athletes who couldn’t let go of their old lives. Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Adam “Pacman” Jones and others come to mind.
The people these star athletes grew up with and continued to associate with are often characterized as “the wrong people,” “a bad crowd” and “poor examples.” These phrases imply that million-dollar talent and poor character have an inverse relationship. In plain English – the ability to catch touchdowns must negate the desire to shoot someone, right?
Success in professional sports is among the most random of happenings. Athletic talent is God-given. We can all maximize what we get, but it mostly comes down to who your parents are. It’s that luck of the draw that makes many athletes appreciate the tremendous gifts they’ve been given and others think the world should worship them like deities.
Our societal obsession with elite-level athletics makes the athletes themselves believe they are invincible. Hero worship feeds the narcissistic monster. We overlook their character flaws because they play so well. Aaron Hernandez was arguably the best tight end in the country coming out of college. He was a First-Team All-American at the University of Florida.
He won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end in 2009. Hernandez played on SEC and National Championship teams with the likes of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. Yet, he was drafted in the 4th Round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
The Patriots looked past his alleged involvement in a previous shooting and his admitted failed drug test to give the kid a shot. He had first round talent and they were getting him at a huge discount. Hernandez delivered big for New England on the field. He and teammate Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski gave defenses fits with record-setting performances and runs deep into the playoffs.
New England rewarded Gronk and Hernandez with contracts worth $53 million and $40 million respectively. Hernandez was never far away from what appears to be his true self, though. In addition to the murder of Odin Lloyd, Hernandez is now being investigated for another double murder which occurred in 2012.
Winning isn’t everything. Talent can’t be above all else. Everything that glitters ain’t gold. A new pair of handcuffs give off a blinding glare against sunlight. Sometimes, the wrong person, the bad influence, the shady character – is the guy in the mirror.