Sadness? Sure. But for whom?

April 19, 2017

PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez blows a kiss to his daughter during jury deliberations in his double-murder trial April 12.

By STEVE KRAUSE

It seems much too trite to react to Aaron Hernandez’ apparent suicide in the wee hours of the morning with hackneyed cliches.

It’s all true, of course. Cliches become cliches because they have an element of truth. It’s just that they get mindlessly repeated, because people can’t think of anything else to say. None of this makes any sense. So, we shrug our shoulders and say “what a waste,” or “he had it all and threw it away,” and go about our days.

I would agree with the first statement. His life was a terrible waste. He murdered one person, and escaped conviction on two others because the state’s star witness wasn’t deemed reliable. Hardly a ringing endorsement of innocence.

Not only was Hernandez’ life a waste, but he left a ton of wreckage strewn all over the path he chose to walk. In that sense, it’s difficult to feel too sorry for him, and even harder to conjure up any real concern about how sad his life was.

It’s the second part of that cliche where I find a curious combination of disgust and sadness. He had it all and threw it all away.

Disgust is the immediate, visceral emotion. This is a man who starred at the University of Florida. He played on a team that was championship-driven, coached by a legend-in-the-making (Urban Meyer), and governed by the the type of physical and mental discipline that would suggest that he was a well-adjusted person whose priorities were in the right order.

We were wrong. Some of that has to do with Hernandez. He fooled a lot of people, including Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick. Those aren’t people easily fooled, or else they wouldn’t be as successful as they are.

And some of the blame has to be laid at the college coaches who either looked the other way at his transgressions or engaged in willful ignorance of them.

Whatever the causes, Hernandez was a man who could look a billionaire owner in the face, shake hands on a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, and then go out and commit murder.

There’s sadness, too, but not so much for him. Without trying to sound too callous, Hernandez made his choices and he paid the price for them — at least up to the point where he felt he could no longer do it. But from all appearances, that was his choice too.

The sadness comes from the fact that so many people who achieve some measure of success because of their natural talents seem to end up being dragged and pulled back to the lives common sense suggests they should have left far behind.

We have singers, musicians, and athletes all hopelessly caught up in gang life, and gang behavior, when their biggest concerns should have been their next song, or, in the case of Hernandez, a Super Bowl or two.

And this is something so many people — including me — do not understand. Athletic fields all over the country are filled with kids with a burning desire to be the one who breaks through and signs a professional contract. You’d think that the ones who do could successfully separate themselves from their past environments.

Why can’t they? Is it a fear of “forgetting where they came from?” If it is, that is a bogus and unfair claim. You can certainly “remember where you came from” by showing up at parks and playgrounds and teaching kids how to make the choices you made to become a pro football player. It doesn’t mean going out and committing murder.

We all have our theories. But the facts in this case are simple: Aaron Hernandez, a pro football player who was on the verge of superstardom, encountered some kind of a fork in the road and went down the wrong path. He left all that promise behind.

And perhaps, in an unguarded and vulnerable moment, that fact hit him squarely between the eyes and became overwhelmingly impossible to live with.