It’s an image I can’t get out of my head.
Last week, like millions of sports fans, I watched in shock as former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez faced his arraignment. Sadly, it was by no means the first time I’ve seen an athlete in handcuffs. But the sight of Hernandez standing there in a white T-shirt, completely void of emotion as the charges were read, was downright chilling.
He wore the same expression one might have while standing in line at the grocery store. Not exactly what you’d expect from someone who’s being indicted in the first-degree murder of a one-time friend. The impassive look never changed — even when the victim’s mother became so emotional she had to leave the courtroom.
Maybe he was in shock. Maybe he was terrified. Maybe he’s just a cold-blooded person. Who knows?
What we do know is that this is bad. It’s bad for the NFL. It’s bad for the Patriots and their fans. It’s bad for all of us. What we know is that in the blink of an eye, a 23-year-old kid went from being one of the most talented, dynamic players in football to just another thug in a jumpsuit.
And somehow, it’s gotten worse.
Since the arrest last week, reports have surfaced linking Hernandez to more violent crimes and revealing an extremely checkered past dating back to his freshman year at the University of Florida. Shootings at strip clubs, questionings about a double murder, bar fights — not the type of press you want surrounding a high-profile athlete (or anyone, for that matter).
The story has dominated the sports headlines, and, as if often the case, no sooner was Hernandez hauled away in handcuffs did analysts start jumping on their soap boxes and assigning blame. Everyone from sports talk radio hosts to bloggers starting pointing the finger in every direction — at the Patriots, for drafting a player with glaring character issues. At the NFL, for promoting a culture of violence. At society. At gun control laws.
At everyone except for the guy wearing handcuffs — the guy who allegedly helped plot and carry out an execution-style murder, then engineered a cover-up to hide evidence from police. The guy who illegally kept weapons in the same home with his 8-month-old daughter.
The lack of accountability in this case is infuriating.
The Patriots are not the first team — nor will they be the last — to draft a player lacking in moral fiber. They rolled the dice and, for two years, got an outstanding on-field performer. And when it became clear he was going to be arrested, they cut him. They did the right thing.
It boggles my mind to think that an organization can be held even partly responsible for what took place last month. Don’t get me wrong — I think they should’ve avoided him like the plague instead of drafting him, but to suggest that owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick share some of the blame is absolutely ridiculous.
In today’s world of 24/7 news and social media, reassigning blame and shrugging responsibility has become second nature.
Years ago, while working as a sportswriter for a local newspaper, I was assigned to cover a championship field hockey game. After getting some quotes from the winning team, I approached the coach whose team had lost in heartbreaking fashion, but she wouldn’t comment. She was too upset, and so I filed my story using what I had.
The next day, my editor called me into his office. Apparently that same coach had called to complain that the article I had written was “completely one-sided” and that her players deserved better.
“Now she’s talking,” I joked. I tried to brush it off, explaining to my editor that I gave her a chance, but she wouldn’t comment.
“I don’t care,” he said. “You’re a reporter. It’s your job to get a quote, whether it’s from her or one of her players. If she wasn’t ready to talk right away, you could have tried again. You could have called her later. This is on you.”
I was stunned. How could this be my fault? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. It was my job to track down a quote from her, and when that didn’t happen, I tried to shirk all responsibility. I just assumed my editor would join me in pointing the finger elsewhere, but he didn’t.
It was a very valuable lesson in accountability. Perhaps we need to stop making excuses and accept that, sometimes, it’s on us.