From the beginning of Aaron Hernandez’s spiral from premier tight end to a man charged with murder, blaming the Patriots was always an act rooted in misplaced anger.
Yes, character concerns are something we hear about each March and April during the buildup to the draft, and nearly every year there’s at least one player who drops significantly because he may or may not be a complete scumbag. But generally, much lesser misdeeds are the foundation for those concerns, like a drug of alcohol problem, and at worst some sort of petty theft or vandalism. Even more generally, we can summarize “character concerns” (a broad NFL draft brush that sometimes borders on racism when taken to its extreme) under a basic definition: teenage campus heroes being idiots.
It’s certainly possible for some of those small missteps to grow into something larger if the player in question doesn’t gain some maturity. But there are no dots or squiggly lines to be connected between drug charges, and murder. The Patriots and other organizations can take every possible precaution to guard against an Aaron Hernandez situation, but there are no oracles or fortune tellers in NFL front offices.
This is why I’m not surprised to hear Robert Kraft reflect back on Hernandez and selecting him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, and feel “duped”.
Kraft spoke publicly today for the first time since Hernandez was arrested. While using that word several times (“duped”) he described an entirely different Hernandez than the thug who’s been portrayed through the continuous leaks of his misconduct while at the University of Florida.
From the Boston Herald:
“Here we have a guy who, man, it looks like had the world by the tail. He said to me he wanted to be a role model to the Hispanic community.
“He was kind enough to give a check (for $50,000 from the $40 million contract extension given to him by Kraft last August, that included $16 million in guaranteed money) for my beloved wife’s memorial charity. He said we’d given him a second chance and I believed him. He was the most likeable young man. This is all sad to me. Very sad.”
A week prior to Hernandez’s arrest, the Patriots decided that he would be released immediately if he was taken into custody. Kraft said that firm stance would have applied even if Hernandez faced only obstruction of justice, the lesser and first-rumored charge.
“The rationale behind that decision was that if any member of the New England Patriots organization is close enough to a murder investigation to actually get arrested — whether it be for obstruction of justice or the crime itself, it is too close to an unthinkable act for that person to be part of this organization going forward.”
But the most interesting part of the press conference was when Kraft read from a letter he received from Hernandez just days before the 2010 draft. In it, Hernandez addressed the concerns many teams had about his drug use, and made a rare commitment to staying clean. He offered to undergo bi-weekly drug testing, and to tie those tests to the guaranteed portion of his rookie salary. If he failed a test, Hernandez said he’d reimburse the team at a pro-rated amount.
Deadspin has the full letter, and here’s the most striking section:
I realize that this offer is somewhat unorthodox, but it is also the only way I could think of to let you know how serious I am about reaching my potential in the NFL. My coaches have told you that nobody on our Florida team worked harder than me in terms of workouts, practices or games. You have your own evaluation as to the type of impact I can have on your offense. The only X-factor, according to the reports I have heard, is concerns about my use of recreational drugs. To address that concern, I am literally putting my money where my mouth is and taking the financial risk away from the team and putting it directly on my back where it belongs.
He was quite literally offering to pay if he became what the Patriots (or any other team that drafted him) feared he’d be, which was a drug-addicted lunatic who treated football as a secondary matter. Does that sound like an offer a person with character concerns would make?
Usually, it wouldn’t. But in this case, it does, because with the benefit of hindsight we now know that Hernandez was two-faced, and living a double life.