It was supposed to be a joyous occasion. For the fifth time in 15 years, the New England Patriots were headed to the White House for a celebratory visit. Not only had they won the Super Bowl, but they did it by erasing a 25-point deficit in the third quarter.
But the White House visit, which took place on April 19, was doomed from the start. First, there was the handful of notable players who chose to boycott the trip due to political reasons, which shouldn’t have been surprising considering this was the first team to be hosted by the new administration. So while it wasn’t an ideal situation, it certainly wasn’t enough to cast a shadow on the entire event.
The shadow, as it turns out, had set in earlier that day, when the news broke that former Patriot Aaron Hernandez had hanged himself in prison. Although he had just been acquitted of double murder, he was still serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his conviction in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, according to ESPN.
For years, Hernandez has been a blemish on the otherwise enviable façade of the Patriots, a team that has aced the concept of buying low (see Danny Woodhead) and selling high (see Wes Welker). This is the team that took a chance on Randy Moss when others shied away — and got three stellar seasons from him — and had the foresight to pick up Tom Brady as the 199th pick in the 2000 draft.
“They never seem to miss,” is a common lament of Jets, Bills and Dolphins fans.
Although Hernandez compiled solid numbers during his three-year career, teaming up with Rob Gronkowski to form arguably the best tight-end tandem in the league, his off-the-field problems always boiled to the surface.
And the worst part? The Patriots knew he came with red flags — and I’m not talking about recreational drug use. Before the 2010 draft, it was uncovered that Hernandez was a person of interest in a double shooting and had confessed to rupturing a man’s eardrum while playing for the University of Florida, prompting several teams (including the Bengals and Colts) to drop him from their boards.
According to the Wall Street Journal, an assessment by Human Resource Tactics (a firm used by 18 NFL teams) scored Hernandez a one out of 10 in social maturity, citing the following:
“Hernandez might get along well with most of his teammates but will find little time to help them. He enjoys living on the edge of acceptable behavior and that he parties too much and does questionable things that could be seen as a problem for him and his team. Hernandez sees himself as a football player first above all else and will place a high priority on football and what it takes to be successful.”
Another report noted that he was untrustworthy, and always seemed to be in the middle of a bad situation. If that doesn’t qualify as a red flag, I’m not sure what does.
And yet, the Patriots took a chance on him. Now, not only is it attracting an onslaught of bad publicity, but because of an obscure Massachusetts law, they may even owe Hernandez’s estate nearly $6 million (NY Post). According to the law, upon a person’s death, if he or she has not exhausted the legal appeals, the case reverts to its status at the beginning; it is as if the trial and conviction never happened.
And so, with the NFL Draft beginning tonight, I’m wondering if teams will learn from New England’s mistake and avoid the red-flaggers, or if they’ll take a chance on highly touted players with severe character concerns, such as Caleb Brantley, Joe Mixon, and Dalvin Cook. (Brantley and Mixon have been accused of beating up women, and Cook is in a category of his own, being charged with robbery, firing and possession of a firm arm, animal cruelty, and battery.)
And then there’s draft prospect Gareon Conley, who has been accused of raping a woman.
Quite the draft class, wouldn’t you say?
Of course, there have been cases of players who turned their lives around and went on to have successful careers. And for teams that are desperate for talent, perhaps it’s worth investigating further before dismissing a player. However, if they do decide to take that road, here are some questions they should be prepared to answer:
- Is your culture strong enough to withstand the distractions that come with bringing on someone with a questionable past?
- Is your public relations team prepared to handle any issues that might arise?
- Are you prepared to defend the decision to those you answer to (and your family) if things go bad?
- Do the potential benefits outweigh the risks?
If the answer to any of these is no, think carefully about moving forward. If not, you could end up like the Patriots, who, I’m guessing, are wishing for a Massachusetts law that would make it as if the 2010 draft never happened.