From such great heights…
Around here, you hear a lot about this abstract concept called “The Patriot Way.” The pinnacle and standard for success, not just in the NFL, but in all of sports. Few professional teams, except for a few legends, (Coach K?), have attained the same level of prestige as the New England Patriots. As such, you kind of just know when an individual will make it in this town or not.
Born in Bristol, Connecticut, one could argue that Aaron Hernandez was predestined for a career in athletics. His is a story of extraordinary untapped potential, and crushing tragedy. Far be it from me to pontificate on what goes on in the mind of a star athlete. Even harder still is grappling with the notion that a person can go to a place so dark it leads them to end another individual’s life. In this case, one Odin Lloyd, who was slain by Hernandez on June 17th, 2013.
To take a step back and examine what the career of Aaron Hernandez could have been, is to present a decidedly eye-opening juxtaposition. The name Rob Gronkowski might be vaguely familiar to you. Gronk and Hernandez were selected in the same draft, back in 2010. How’s that for a plot twist. I hesitate to make light out of this in any way due to the severity of this whole story. But, come with me on this journey for a moment.
Gronkowski is one of the premier tight ends in the league. He’s famous for his lovable, work hard, play hard, nature. Often being praised for antics such as crashing Sean Spicer’s White House press briefing. He is essentially the real life, sports version of Vincent Chase. Only more successful.
On balance, to fully grasp the tragedy of this story, certain truths must be accepted. For one, Aaron Hernandez was a deeply troubled young man. His life sentence was recently vacated upon his demise, but the fact remains that he killed Odin Lloyd. And was suspected of murdering two others.
Tales that seem straight out of a John Grisham novel too often permeate throughout the NFL. When it comes to the wide-receiver and running-back positions especially, you’re likely to find an astonishing number of lost souls. Hernandez was certainly one of the most tormented, but if you look at players like Dez Bryant of the Cowboys, or Plaxico Burress, formerly of the New York Giants, you will find a history of turmoil.
In the immediate aftermath of hearing news of Hernandez’ suicide, the world was unsure how to react. Whether you turn to Twitter, Mashable, or the seriously-maligned ESPN for your news, opinions were scattered, from melancholy to borderline satisfaction.
My original notion was that Hernandez, growing ever more distraught in prison, no longer wanted to live with the overwhelming guilt in his heart. When you start to dig deep beneath the surface, however, you see a lot more. Autopsies don’t show thought. They don’t show the love for his daughter, nor do they show the dynamic between him and his brother DJ, who at one point worked on the Iowa football coaching staff.
As bystanders, we see events like this through different prisms of detachment, in most cases. That could in some way be a byproduct of the fact that casual fans want to use sports as a purely escapist practice. Dealing with real-life horrors like what we find in this story, is far from escapist.
Even in what seems like an offseason that gets longer with each passing year, football never stays far from the public consciousness. Soon, GMs from across the league will try to figure out ways to implement their new draft picks. In Las Vegas, “Beast Mode” will be an eligible selection on the menu when the Raiders come to town. This story is not finished, this league is not finished, and the game remains just one of many good things about each day.