As the nonstop developments in the Aaron Hernandez murder case(s) begin to subside, it’s time to broaden the lens and address a topic that has popped up from time to time over the past two weeks.
Should the Patriots have avoided drafting Hernandez in 2010 and/or giving him a long-term, big-money contract in 2012?
Many are suggesting that the Pats screwed the proverbial pooch on this one, that they negligently brought a potential murderer to Massachusetts and, two years later, made him a multi-multi-millionaire. But there are multi-problems with that logic.
For starters, there really was no indication that Hernandez was anything other than a kid who: (1) liked to smoke marijuana; and (2) periodically made mischief. As the folks at CFT pointed out on Saturday, Hernandez was indeed questioned in connection with a shooting nearly six years ago in Gainesville. But it was perfunctory and brief. Other Gators were questioned at the time, including safety Reggie Nelson and the Pouncey twins.
The only true red flag that attached to Hernandez from his college days came from an affinity for inhaling the fumes of a plant that, if anything, make the user less likely to commit violence or do anything other than sit around and eat Fritos. And if there’s a link between smoking pot and murder, there would be a lot more murders.
Whatever was wrong with Hernandez, he supposedly had been rehabilitated by former Florida coach Urban Meyer, who according to the New York Times personally conducted “daily Bible sessions” with Hernandez in order to turn him around. Meyer presumably vouched for Hernandez to Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Given the strong friendship between Belichick and Meyer that likely went a long way to persuading Belichick that Hernandez’s talents justified the risk.
Of course, some are now painting the picture that Hernandez entered the NFL with a pair of six-guns strapped to his side and ink on his arms that not-so-cryptically spelled out plans for his future crime sprees. But where we these “sources” with knowledge of supposed gang ties and other actual or perceived misdeeds or antisocial tendencies when Hernandez emerged as a fourth-round star in his second NFL season?
That would have been the obvious time for scouts, General Managers, and coaches to cover their collective asses by leaking the notion that, even though Hernandez was playing at a very high level, they avoided Hernandez in rounds one through three because he had more problems than marijuana. But there was nothing — not until after Hernandez was tied to a murder case and scouts and sources and some in the media all began to join in a hands-across-Whoville chorus of I told you so.
Even if Hernandez’s antics had generated real warning signs beyond marijuana, it’s impossible to connect dots from off-field misbehavior to premeditated murder. It’s far more reasonable (or, as the case may be, far less reckless) to connect a substance-abuse problem (drugs or alcohol) to the potential for accidental death or dismemberment while driving a car.
Murderers come from all walks of life, with no way to prospectively screen for them — unless they’ve actually killed in the past. For every Aaron Hernandez there’s a Jovan Belcher, who generated no objective evidence to suggest that he would get into serious trouble before he repeatedly shot the mother of his young child and then killed himself in the presence of his coach and G.M. Ditto for Rae Carruth, who orchestrated the murder of the mother of his unborn son because Carruth apparently didn’t want to pay child support. The Chiefs and the Panthers saw neither problem coming, because there’s rarely any reason to suspect someone of having the capacity to deliberately kill someone else, regardless of the person’s history.
For the best proof of this, look no farther than O.J. Simpson. Revered as a player, beloved as a broadcaster, and celebrated as an actor, he would have been the last man anyone would have regarded as the potential murderer of his ex-wife and a stranger who was in the worst possible place at the worst possible time. (Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but found legally responsible in civil court for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.)
On one hand, this is an extreme example of how the Modified Patriot Way of buying low — via trades, free agency, and the draft — can go very wrong. On the other hand, the only way to avoid blame for harboring a potential murderer is to shun any player who has generated at any time any reason to believe that he could do anything wrong as an NFL player.
Even then, there’s still a chance that a player with no red flags will be the next Jovan Belcher, Rae Carruth, or O.J. Simpson.