It’s been a rough week for New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. He may or may not be implicated in a murder investigation. He may or may not be facing a warrant for his arrest. He may or may not have shot a man in the face this February. Nobody really knows what’s going on. Nobody, that is, except for the self-righteous media types who’ve suggested that we should’ve seen it coming all along, whatever it turns out to be.
Today, the Boston Globe ran an aggravating piece headlined “Aaron Hernandez’s scouting report was ominous.” The story details several unsavory aspects of Hernandez’s past: “The marijuana use, the short fuse, the shadowy friends from his Connecticut hometown.” Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated ran a similar story, reporting that, in 2010, Hernandez slipped to the fourth round of the NFL Draft because many teams had “marijuana use and gang concerns.” The implication of these stories is obvious: Hernandez’s pals and weed smoking should have tipped us off that one day he’d be in real trouble.
These stories are Monday morning quarterbacking of the worst sort. Hernandez’s alleged pre-draft character issues have no bearing on this current murder investigation. You can’t legitimately look back at them and say, “Yep, we should have known.” Every single NFL roster is stacked with players who’ve used drugs in the past, or have short tempers or “shadowy friends.” And you know what? Every single neighborhood in America is filled with people with these exact same characteristics. That doesn’t make all of these people murderers-in-waiting.
It is dishonest and irrelevant to claim that these are “ominous” signs. Or, at least, they’re no more ominous than the character flaws exhibited by other Patriots players: like Rob Gronkowski, who appears to really, really, really enjoy drinking to excess; Tom Brady, who started dating Gisele Bundchen while Bridget Moynahan was pregnant with his child; Vince Wilfork, who allegedly received $50,000 in under-the-table benefits from disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro while enrolled at the University of Miami; Mark Harrison, who allegedly trashed a hotel room while attending the NFL Scouting Combine (“The mess included urine and feces left throughout the bathroom, toothpaste on the mirror and garbage left throughout the room”); Brandon Spikes, who attempted to gouge an opponent’s eyes while playing at Florida, and whose brother is serving a life sentence for murder; and Sebastian Vollmer, who is from Germany. The list goes on.
If sportswriters are going to disparage Hernandez based on shady insinuations about his past, then they should get a head start on criticizing a large swath of the NFL. Not every pro football player is a bad guy, and not everyone in the NFL is a saint. What’s ludicrous is pretending, based on old anecdotes and lukewarm accusations, that you can tell who’s a ticking time bomb—a guy who could have been defused if only we had recognized the signs.