(Disclaimer: These are solely opinion and I am in no way defending any wrongful acts committed by the names mentioned in this article.)
Aaron Hernandez was on top of the world. Star tight end for the New England Patriots. He was almost guaranteed to win one Super Bowl in his career with the quarterback and coach he had. Now, in the blink of an eye, Hernandez is in county jail held without bail and charged with committing first degree murder to his friend, Odin Lloyd.
It's only recently, with the public aware of Hernandez’s arrest, that the truth starts to emerge. We learn that Hernandez was a questionable choice by the Patriots because of his character issues, which made him fall into the fourth round of the NFL draft. Newly retired Patriot Matt Light, known for being one of the most well-respected players in the NFL because of his ability to avoid talking lowly of his teammates and opponents, comes out publicly to state he never believed in anything Hernandez stood for and never embraced him. Photos of Hernandez throwing up gang hand symbols back in high school are now being viewed as gang affiliation instead of fun, playful photos that all dumb high school students do when they don’t know any better.
Now imagine if he wasn’t accused of murdering Lloyd. Light would have said nothing. Old photos spewing out of him wouldn’t be taken so seriously and the Patriots “steal” in the 2010 NFL Draft would not be looked at as a questionable choice once again three years later.
Yet, the Hernandez debacle needs to serve some type of purpose. Yes, it should speak to how the United States does need stricter gun control considering we are the most gun-loving country in the world. Yes, it should speak volume to every celebrity that you are not impervious to the justice system. But in this case, it should serve as a way for us to rethink the way we view athletes.
You can ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you wholeheartedly I am a big sports junkie and that my addiction to watching ESPN, Monday Night Football, NBA Prime-time, and the New York Mets instead of shows like Scandal, Dexter, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones leaves me somewhat of the outcast at dinner conversations with my friends. My aspiration is to be a sports columnist one day and get a call from that shiny building with four big red letters in Bristol, Connecticut, ironically enough the hometown of Hernandez, saying they want me to contribute to their organization.
Well if this is my breakout article or the article that gets me barred from those doors, so be it, because now is the time for some critical thinking on how we view athletes.
Let’s look at the list of athletes before Hernandez who were the center of attention in a scandal that altered their public image forever. First one that comes to mind is O.J Simpson and as I say that name, I can bet on my future children that the first thought that came to your head was… I knew it… murderer. Forget that he was a NFL MVP, an All-American, a rushing champion, and Athlete of the Year in 1973. All of that was wiped away clean when he was accused of murdering his estranged wife. Once he committed a heinous act, his image changed from football legend to murderous civilian. Similar to Hernandez, just like that, everything good Simpson ever did was wiped clean and now and forever he will be known as a criminal. Think for a second if Simpson were just an average joe, making money and paying his bills like the rest of us. None of the national attention given to the crime would have ever existed.
The second athlete that comes to mind is Tiger Woods. Woods was what every man fails to admit: lustful. The “window smash heard ’round the world” led Woods to become the center of attention for cheating on his wife multiple times with different women. What it led to was one of the worst public speaking engagements ever witnessed when Woods apologized and said he was deeply sorry for his actions. Now and forever, Woods won’t be known as the greatest golfer to every play, but a man who cheated on his wife. Now, think about if Woods were just an average joe. Then, it becomes a normal, every day problem that men and women all can relate to where a significant other committed an infidelity and the only reason it may have been given media attention was because Ella smashed Woods’ car with a golf club. Without that, this story would never have existed.
Third one, Gilbert Arenas. Arenas was a star point guard for the Washington Wizards, until he decided to bring a gun into the teams locker room and is now looked at as one of the most bizarre individuals to every play basketball. This wouldn’t be a major story if this was found in the Columbia Heights rec center and Arenas weren’t an all-star basketball player.
Fourth and final one so we cover all the major sports, Alex Rodriguez. If you go back and look at an article I wrote about performance enhancing drugs, I mentioned how I looked up to Rodriguez and how he was my idol when I played baseball. Once it became public knowledge that he allegedly took steroids, I shut my ears to it because I didn’t want to know the player I looked up to would stoop so low. Then, plastered in front of the New York Post, he admitted to using steroids and now and forever, especially right now, Rodriguez is no longer an all-star and first ballot Hall of Famer, but the man who played the New York Yankees out of $275 million and is one of the biggest drama queens in professional sports.
All four of these athletes and Hernandez have something in common. When they were on top, we revered them. We looked to them as idols and bathe them with glory and adulation and then, just like that, in their descent back to earth, the truth starts to come out. ‘We always knew A-Rod took steroids.’ ‘Hernandez did have a troubled background which is why so many teams passed on him in the draft.’ Comment after comment, negativity after negativity, the truth started to come out. Why all of a sudden when they are no longer at the pinnacle we placed them at?
Why all of a sudden do we recant everything great we ever said about the athlete and do what is so easy to do and just bash and berate them for the wrongs they did? Is it because we are so accustomed to being extremely courteous or extremely critical? Or is it because we, as fans, as journalists, as students, as regular every day people, view these athletes as demigods that at the onset of mortality shown, we treat them as every day people and bash them?
Imagine if Hernandez was just a regular Latino who grew up in Bristol, Connecticut and one night decided he couldn’t trust his friend and shot his friend cold-blooded. There would be an entirely different discussion and it wouldn’t be the center of attention at ESPN, TMZ, or Deadspin. Nope, it would’ve just appeared on your local nightly news as a normal murder that we as Americans have grown accustomed to. But, because Hernandez is an athlete, it’s different. He is held to a much higher standard given his celebrity status.
What makes Hernandez different from me, a Latino who’s aspiring to become a sports columnist and investigative journalist? Because he’s bigger than me, can catch a football better than me, can run faster than me, and earn more money than me makes him immediately better than me? A hobby that turned passion that turned into a job makes Hernandez better than the rest of society? This is where we need to rethink. This is where the madness needs to end.
This is a wake up call to cease the adulation, to cease the idolatry that we have become so accustomed to bestowing upon not just athletes, but celebrities in general. Hernandez didn’t sign a contract with the Patriots to be a celebrity. He signed it to be a football player, that’s it. Hernandez wanted to play football and make money doing it, basically same thing yours truly is trying to do. I will write articles and blog until I sign a contract with that shiny building in Bristol. He didn’t ask to be a celebrity. We forced it upon him because he’s an athlete.
We force it upon each and every single athlete from high school through their professional career. Haven’t you noticed when an athlete is involved in a story, the story gets more attention? Take the example of the two Ohio HS football players raping a 16 year-old girl who was intoxicated. You take away their football ability and all of a sudden, it’s a regular story of two regular guys committing a disgusting act. But, you add football player and all of a sudden, it becomes a national story. The great Kobe Bryant was even accused of sexual assault.
Did you see what I did there? I attached great to Bryant because that’s the problem I’m trying to display. We need to end all this hype and admonishing of athletes. Yes, their abilities are unique and breathtaking, I get it, but we bombastically talk about these players to the point where they are all of a sudden held to a much higher standard than they should be. While these athletes are remarkable, they are human at the end of the day and if not a dose of humility is instilled in them, how can we as a society expect them to maintain a benchmark they can never maintain?
It all starts at a young age especially in high school and college. We hear time and time again that when someone says student-athlete, student comes before athlete because academics are the top priority before the game. If that’s the case, why then do college freshmen jump ship to the pros with no college degree to their name? Why then are student-athletes more known for what they do on the field than what they do in the classroom? Apply this theory to professional athletes and the same goes for them. It doesn’t matter what they do professionally. It matters what they do on the field. It’s the sole reason why you have some fans saying Hernandez is innocent and why you have Hernandez’s own lawyer stating he’s a good football player.
We always admire when a player is candid, sincere, humble, charitable, etc. because we know that players can be very hot-headed and very arrogant, but it isn’t because of them. It is because of us. We, the columnists, the analysts, the fans, the scouts, the agents, the train conductor and the garbage-man all play an integral role in the making of an athlete. We expect perfection and anything less is a disappointment, but why expect perfection from a human who is doing something they love to do?
Aaron Hernandez allegedly murdered Odin Lloyd. But let’s take a moment to reflect and see what we, as a society, did wrong to lead Hernandez to where he is now. The problem lies in the way we hold athletes to higher standard than they should be.
We as a society have allowed sports to go above everything else.