The longer the sordid, tawdry, far-more-than-cautionary tale of Aaron Hernandez gets dragged out, the more I wonder if I was the only one sick of him.
He had already lost my interest while he rotted in prison and the New England Patriots embellished their trophy case with two more trophy cases as if he never existed.
Then came his recent acquittal in yet another homicide trial, which was reported and re-Tweeted and evoked reaction as if it actually mattered. Like it made the guy less of a murderer, or something.
Which was immediately followed by Hernandez’s self-inflicted death, via hanging, in his jail cell. Naturally a small but vocal delegation — including, but not limited to, his agent and a few jock-sniffing sycophants from central casting — found the timing peculiar and aired out every alternative theory in the book.
You didn’t hear one from me. I considered the self-aggrandizing tight end’s choice to grab one final headline by the most final means imaginable utterly predictable.
Predictable, as in the parallel foolishness we’ve seen in the days hence. The unraveling of Hernandez — drafted into the life of every young man’s dreams at 20, shamed and deceased at 27 — brought the bleeding hearts and do-gooders to the forefront like clockwork.
The first foolishness I’ve heard attached to this case is that it’s a “tragedy.” Please, I beg you, stop attaching that word to Hernandez. I know it is right up there with “love” on the list of most overused and misplaced words in society, but do the world a favor, take inventory of the entire story and recognize that it doesn’t apply.
I know that death is often a good career move for famous and infamous people. And the media (I hope unintentionally) made Hernandez a sympathetic character at the most recent trial by catching him blowing kisses toward his long-ago-fatherless-daughter.
Yes, it is indescribably sad that a little girl will never get to know the man with whom she shares a genetic code. But let’s not forget that the reason we got to this point in the first place is that her dad willfully tore another man’s family to shreds.
That was the tragedy. The domino effect on the ex-Patriot’s life, and the up-shot that he understandably became a suspect in a nearly cold case in Massachusetts after his unfortunate arrival, are undeserving of that label. It is not tragic that Hernandez had the world in the palms of his hands and threw it away with his trigger finger. Call it foolish, selfish, reckless, a million other things. His decision to close the book doesn’t suddenly make it Shakespearean.
And yes, it was a decision, one that echoes the medieval kill-or-be-killed manner in which Hernandez lived his adult life. Simply because Hernandez engaged in a terminal act for which our society holds an enhanced degree of sympathy doesn’t entitle him to those benefits.
Hernandez does not suddenly become immune from me, or some other messenger, reminding you of his despicable past. Sorry-not-sorry, but we are not bound by “don’t speak ill of the dead” superstition in his case. If we talk about it, hopefully we learn from it. Perhaps pro sports leagues stop rolling out the red carpet to rookies who are draped in red flags. Maybe fans cease venerating miscreants simply because they make “our team” better.
I weep for the true victims of suicide that this guy gets to fall into that column in perpetuity. Their mental anguish was a figurative prison we could never comprehend. Hernandez simply imposed justice upon himself to shorten his time behind literal bars. The amount of mercy and sympathy he deserves from you and me is absolutely zero.
Of course, certain opportunists have latched onto this issue for social gain in another arena. The reported post-autopsy tug-of-war over Hernandez’s brain is a clue that the CTE Police will attempt retroactively to link his life of crime and his death in custody to head injuries.
If you love sports, and if you want the games we love to be available as learning experiences for our children, grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren, you need to help me stand against this nonsense once and for all.
The same anti-athletics crowd who link what they consider our excessive adulation of athletes to everything one of them does wrong would have been saying “See? I told you so!” about Hernandez four years ago. Now it wants to use him as a witness for the, ahem, persecution.
They will kill sports and ultimately damage the boys, girls and young men and women whose tangible and intangible rewards from these games outweigh the risk by so much.
Yes, the concussion issue deserves our due diligence. By all means, let’s make sports safer. But we need to repudiate this idea that everyone who takes one blow to the head may become a danger to themselves and others, lest we all wind up clothed in bubble wrap for the rest of our unfulfilling lives.
That might not be a tragedy, by definition, but certainly a travesty, and another alarming sign that the bad guys have won.
And speaking of bad guys, we would do well to remember that Aaron Hernandez, rest his soul, was one.
Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. You may reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.