Thursday, April 20, 2017

No, You Shouldn't Feel Bad for Aaron Hernandez, But Don't Forget Who Enabled Him

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

I must admit, I didn't know how to react yesterday when I learned that Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots and Florida Gators star turned convicted murderer, had hanged himself in his jail cell overnight.

While I don't think I've ever been happy to hear someone died, especially when they have taken their own life, I also couldn't summon any sympathy for Hernandez, a guy who, thanks to his immense athletic gifts, had the world at his fingertips.

Yet, for whatever reason, the 27-year old former All-American's temper and temperament led him to a life of aggressive crime, including a murder conviction in the 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, and being tried with a 2012 double-homicide in Boston. Hernandez was, ultimately, found not guilty of those two murders earlier this week, but has also settled out of court with a former friend who accused Hernandez of shooting him in the face outside of a Miami strip club in 2013, and police are still looking into a 2007 Gainesville double-shooting that a young Hernandez may have been involved in.

In the coming days, we're going to hear all the theories as to why Hernandez threw it all away to become a violent criminal.

His father died when he was a teenager, causing him to resist authority at every turn. This is true. He fell in with the wrong crowd, both in his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut, and on the roster of a late 2000s Florida Gator team that is looking dirtier by the day. Also true.

But guess what? Tons of athletes come from troubled backgrounds where they lost parents, or had parents walk out on them, and not all of them became murderers. You can look into every "troubled" part of his background but, at the end of the day, Hernandez was a murderous psychopath who seemed to respond to every bit of adversity with violence, just as he did in 2007 when he punched a bar employee in the face after being asked to leave.

It's okay to not feel bad for him. In fact, I'd say it's a perfectly human response.

We should blame Hernandez and hold him accountable for his actions, but there is other blame to go around, and that blame should be directed at the people who had power and influence over Hernandez, but chose to simply coddle and enable him. I'm talking about the coaches he had throughout his entire life who communicated, through their actions, that there would be no consequences for his actions.

Of course, I don't know how every coach handled Hernandez in every situation, but I have a pretty good idea about how one coach dealt with his troubling actions; former Florida coach and current Ohio State boss Urban Meyer.

Meyer recruited Hernandez out of Connecticut when the star was rated as the No. 1 tight end in the country by Originally committed to UConn, Hernandez joined Meyer in Gainesville after the coach led the Gators to the 2006 BCS National Title, and found an immediate role as a pass-catching tight end for first-year starting quarterback Tim Tebow.

But he also found trouble at UF rather quickly. The aforementioned incident at a Gainesville bar, where an underaged Hernandez was asked to leave after refusing to pay for a pair of alcoholic beverages. The freshman punched a bouncer in the head, breaking his ear drum, then fled the scene. Incidentally, the smiley, white, Christian face of Meyer's Gators, Tim Tebow, witnessed the event, and even said he tried to break up the altercation.

In fact, it was Tebow who spoke to police after Hernandez got out of dodge.

So, what were the consequences from Meyer and Gainesville PD after multiple witnesses, including Tebow, saw Hernandez punch a man in the head, causing a serious injury? Nothing.

How about when Hernandez was considered a person of interest in a 2007 double-shooting outside a Gainesville bar, that left two men injured, one shot in the back of the head? The police didn't even question Hernandez and Meyer offered no discipline, at least not publicly.

Now, I do want to be clear that Hernandez was never convicted of either of these crimes, but when multiple witnesses can attest that he did in fact punch someone, and when other witnesses pointed to a man that matched Hernandez' description as a gunman, all while the well-known football player was in the area… Maybe the local police department, or the football coach who ran that town as his unofficial fiefdom, should speak with the young man about it.

Make no mistake, Aaron Hernandez was an angry, volatile young man when he arrived in Gainesville, but the total lack of ramifications for his violent outbursts helped shape him into a murderous criminal. Unless there are some unsolved crimes that Hernandez committed in Connecticut while he was a high school student (and, to be fair, who knows at this point), what other conclusion can we really draw?

So no, don't feel bad for Aaron Hernandez. This was an evil man who reaped who he sowed, but save a bit of your outrage energy for Urban Meyer and anyone who perpetuated the culture of those great Florida Gators teams. In total, 41 players from Florida's 2008 national title team were arrested in college or shortly after, including nine starters, with charges ranging from disorderly conduct, to theft, to aggravated assault to domestic violence.

This was a team that put the University of Miami's infamous 80s teams to shame but, because of Tim Tebow's lovable smile and Bible verse-laden eyeblack, Meyer was able to hide its dirty laundry, at least until he left town following the disappointing 2010 season to "spend more time with his family."

He emerged a year later to coach Ohio State.

There are plenty of coaches who play fast and loose with NCAA rules, and certainly plenty of coaches who have looked the other way when it came to academic fraud. Meyer is a different breed. This is a man who saw a budding, violent psychopath, and decided his team having another receiving weapon on Saturday was more important than nipping those actions in the bud.

Now, Odin Lloyd, and who knows how many other people, are dead because of Hernandez, and Meyer's once-prized recruit has killed himself in a jail cell, leaving a four-year old girl fatherless.

Hope it was worth it.

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