Over the last few days, and as the situation for former Florida Gators and New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez worsened, I gathered my thoughts. Each new revelation added to a growing cold in the pit of my stomach.
Others have written about Hernandez — many others. This story is an exercise in the old adage, if it bleeds, it leads, and mine is just another voice among the clatter. Andy Hutchins eloquently touched on the forgotten character in this American tragedy: the victim, Odin Lloyd.
His must-read piece draws the parallel between Lloyd and the scores of youngsters murdered in South Chicago. The HBO series of the news site VICE aired a powerful investigation into the violence plaguing the city. One need not look overseas to find warfare — it exists in an area now dubbed “Chiraq.”
Crippling poverty contributes to the underlying hopelessness in South Chicago. So how does a superstar who just recently also became a very wealthy man, willingly seek out similar circumstance? Even if Hernandez is innocent of the murder — despite what appears to be damning evidence, the judicial system is built on a principle of innocent until proven guilty — he is guilty of being in a situation that exposed him to such heinousness.
People cannot understand why someone with what should be an enviable existence would seek out a lifestyle akin to that which others try so desperately to escape. Because they don’t understand, they look for easy answers.
When news of Hernandez possibly being linked to Lloyd’s murder surfaced, it was obvious that attacks on Urban Meyer were imminent. And, they came. CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel has the best deconstruction of this simplistic argument.
Meyer is an easy target because of the litany of arrests that occurred in the UF football program during his brief stint there. Could Meyer have had more discipline? Absolutely. But as Doyel outlines:
"Evil does not become evil because it was not suspended for the Georgia game." http://t.co/Tpq3fOyTzd
— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) June 28, 2013
Overshadowed by Hernandez’s arrest is that former Virginia Cavaliers lineman/linebacker Ausar Walcott was taking into custody on charges of attempted murder the same day. In college, Walcott played for Mike London. London was a police officer and detective before becoming a football coach — not exactly a background that would suggest he is the type to put up with transgressions.
To that end, he suspended Walcott, along with a few other Cavaliers for two months in 2011. Walcott was reinstated and played the next two seasons, leading up to his signing with Cleveland and subsequent arrest.
Walcott’s reinstatement two years is not any more to blame for his arrest, than Hernandez not receiving a longer suspension in 2008 has to do with his. In the contrast of two programs that likely perceived very differently, there is a parallel.
I was NCAA.com’s national FCS columnist in 2009, one year after London coached Richmond to a national championship. As title defenders, the Spiders received much of my column’s attention. Now, an interviewer can only glean as much as the interviewee reveals from a handful of conversations. But one very clear takeaway from my time chatting with London was his genuine affection for his players. His pride in wide receiver Kevin Grayson, a member of the UR Student Senate who held a campus symposium on gay rights, was evident.
Lost along with recognition of Odin Lloyd’s life is that football has more Kevin Graysons than Aaron Hernandezes. An oft-repeated number this week is 27: the total arrests of NFL players this offense. Twenty-seven is 27 too many, but drowned out in concerns of an epidemic is that is less than two percent of the entire league. Without having exact numbers from the college ranks, I would suspect the ratio is similar.
There are athletes doing good, and coaches fostering it. London is a great example via his tireless efforts for bone marrow donation. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops grabbed a shovel after the devastating tornadoes in his state; Sooner and Iowa Hawkeyes players were not far behind in disaster relief efforts.
Players spend more time with their coaches and teammates than anyone else they encounter in college. Likewise, coaches are with their players more than they are with their own families, at times. Thus, they establish a strong bonds. Armchair-quarterbacking how a coach could have handled an athlete years after the fact might be easy, but it’s shortsighted.
Surely Hernandez’s arrest must haunt Meyer. In USA Today‘s report on Monday, Lindsay H. Jones details a bond that player-and-coach forged:
But by his junior year in Gainesville, Hernandez, his mother and coach Urban Meyer seemed convinced Hernandez’ off-field troubles were over. Hernandez was an important part of the Gators’ 2008 national championship team, had developed into college football’s best tight end (he won the John Mackey Award that year) and was spending time at Meyer’s home, sometimes for Bible study. Meyer, it appeared, had become the father figure Hernandez needed.
“When your guy, your idol, your soul is taken from you, how do you deal with that? I just think there’s a part of his life that was not there. He needed discipline; he needed someone to talk to,” Meyer told USA TODAY Sports in 2009.
There is inherent good in people, so athletes donating time and resources to sick children or others in need just makes sense. It’s logical. Following a path of destruction as Aaron Hernandez is alleged to have is confusing. And there really are no easy answers as to why.