As the media continues to dive into Aaron Hernandez’s past following him being charged with first-degree murder and being held without bail in a Massachusetts jail, the story itself keeps expanding outward, seemingly on a beeline for Gainesville, Fla.
The 23-year old former New England Patriots star spent three years in Gainesville, winning a national championship with the Florida Gators under head coach Urban Meyer in 2008. Apparently, he may have left a lasting legacy off the field, as well.
With the seriousness of his current charges, it’s important not to willfully insist the University of Florida is somehow culpable in all this, despite the fact that the football team earned a rather salacious reputation under Meyer.
After all, Hernandez made his way to Florida because of his talents on the football field. While character concerns should be fully weighted in scholarship offers, mistakes do happen.
However, with the most recent breaking news via USA Today, it seems as if Florida may be more blameworthy than originally expected. According to this report filed Tuesday afternoon, the University of Florida and the Gators coaching staff may have reached a settlement with the victim of an alleged Aaron Hernandez attack in a 2007 bar fight.
As the story goes, Aaron Hernandez, then just 17, was allegedly served two alcoholic beverages at The Swamp Restaurant; drinks he didn’t actually order. When confronted with a bill, Hernandez refused to pay, prompting his removal from the building by Michael Taphorn, a bouncer at the restaurant.
According to Hernandez, Taphorn proceeded to get into the then-freshman’s face. Hernandez had yet to play a down for the Gators but was enrolled at the university.
When Taphorn went to walk away, according to reports, Aaron Hernandez proceeded to punch him in the side of the head, which Hernandez did not dispute when questioned by police.
Michael Taphorn originally refused medical treatment, but the next day, further examination revealed that he had a burst eardrum. The injury took four-to-six weeks to heal.
Aaron Hernandez fled the scene, but a report was filed listing a witness to the crime as having given a statement. A supplemental report the USA Today found listed none other than Tim Tebow as “Witness 1″, which was confirmed by Gainesville Police Department spokesperson Ben Tobias.
Tim Tebow was with Hernandez and apparently tried to break up the fight, even offering to pay for the drinks Hernandez was supplied with. However, he was listed anonymously as a witness because of fear that the media would say he was physically involved in the incident.
Tebow was also present when Hernandez eventually gave his statement.
Eventually, the Gainesville Police Department recommended a felony assault charge against Aaron Hernandez, but, upon following up with Taphorn, they were told that he was in settlement discussions with Florida and the Florida Gators coaching staff.
Obviously the ramifications of covering up a felony assault charge are severe, and it’s important to note that while charges were recommended, they were not formally issued. Also, it’s important to note that despite Tim Tebow’s name being involved in this story, it’s pretty clear the polarizing star quarterback, who was reunited as a teammate of Hernandez’s in New England for a short time before Hernandez was released the day of his arrest, was simply trying to do the right thing.
However, that being said, this is as bad as it gets for the Florida Gators. Certainly the University of Florida isn’t responsible for the predicament Aaron Hernandez currently finds himself in, but it does go a LONG way towards establishing a pattern of behavior, both by the Gators and Hernandez.
Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators had numerous legal issues throughout his tenure in Gainesville, and the idea of the university and the staff being complicit in an attempted cover up of a felony assault is downright appalling. More importantly, had the Gainesville Police Department been allowed to investigate the case and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law, it may have forced Aaron Hernandez to rethink a pattern of behavior that led him to where he is today.
Then again, maybe it would have led him down an even darker path; however, at the very least, it would have alerted teams to the true character of Aaron Hernandez and taken him out of a position to become an idolized superstar athlete. Regardless, the latest USA Today report looks terrible for the University of Florida.
Chances are, it’ll get even worse from here.