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Aaron Hernandez: Did He Really Fall From Grace or Was it a Matter of Time?

When I think of the New England Patriots, I think of Super Bowl champions and Aaron Hernandez. The game between the Patriots and the Seahawks was a game for the ages. Yet for many sports fans, the murder trial involving former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez overshadows the game.

Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end, was found guilty of murdering Odin Lloyd in 2013 and will spend the rest of his life in jail without the chance of parole.

As the verdict was being read, Hernandez stoically stood there. Watching him made me wonder if he was in shock or if he expected the guilty verdict.

If I had to guess, I’d say he expected the guilty verdict. Hernandez has been around trouble since his college days at the University of Florida. His attitude as a Gator was, “You can’t touch me.” And he was right — at least while he was in college.

He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010 and that is when his life really started to spiral out of control. Hernandez was a gifted professional football player by day and a thug at night. In addition to this guilty verdict, he has a double-murder trial set for later in the year. He will have the right to appeal the guilty verdict although, in my opinion, his chances are not good. It appears as if unless a miracle happens that he will only be able to catch footballs behind prison bars.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in these types of cases, there is a part of the post verdict called victim impact statements. It gives family members a chance to express their hurt and sadness about their lost loved one.

Ursula Ward, the mother of Odin Lloyd, gave a heartfelt testimony about her loving son. Her comments were followed by other family members who gave similar testimonies.

I have to wonder how Hernandez convinced Lloyd to become one of his road partners. Was it because they dated sisters? We will never know.

There are a number of points to be made in the Hernandez case. First, not every athlete should be on a college campus. More stringent background checks and monitoring may be a solution. But will this solution help this billion-dollar industry called college football? When a college coach sees a student-athlete exhibiting inappropriate behavior, why not suspend him or boot him off the team? Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski kicked junior Rasheed Sulaimon off of the team, never to return. Maybe that is why Duke is Duke. Some schools will put up with thugs in cleats and shorts while others won’t.

All of us have choices as to who we are around during the day and night. Do we want to be around high character men and women? Of course we do. What did Lloyd see in Hernandez that made him want to be around him? Was it his fame and notoriety? It is safe to say that Hernandez had been living on the edge for a long time. This time he finally fell over the cliff of bad choices and poor decisions.

I hope every coach in America shares this story with their players. What happened to Hernandez could easily happen to another athlete with promise. I have always said that some of the best athletes are hanging out on the corners of America because they don’t have the discipline and the self-control to be in organized team sports. Sometimes they slip through the cracks like Hernandez did. It is not if they slip through the cracks, it is simply how long they stay. Aaron Hernandez didn’t stay very long.

There are countless college and professional teams that have problematic players with promise. Coaches must ask themselves if character counts. If it counts, you will make the necessary adjustments. If it doesn’t and you want to win at all costs, you will do nothing.

Family members always suffer because of the poor decisions and indiscretions that our children make. The pain expressed by Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, could be felt through the television. There won’t be any grandchildren, not another birthday or him wanting to know what’s for dinner. The pain lingers and the torment is forever.

Tomorrow is not promised, not even this afternoon. Death will overtake us all. It is not when we die it is simply how we die. Remember the family of Odin Lloyd.

Dr. James Ewers is the President Emeritus of The Teen Mentoring Committee in Ohio. He served as a vice president and admissions director at several colleges and universities before retiring in 2012. A motivational speaker and workshop leader, he is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

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