I am often guilty of putting athletes in their own bubble, separate from the confines of regular society. I do not give them the benefit of the doubt, but rather use their fame and fortune as a means to disprove their alleged heinous actions. I could not fathom how an athlete in the prime of his career, making millions of dollars to play a game, while generally enjoying a largely carefree and extravagant lifestyle, at least in terms of finances, could be so foolish as to commit a felony that would bring an abrupt end to their paradise.
I just could not comprehend it. Convenience and protection of self-interest, not morals, just seemed to be such a practical decision that even the most morally-devoid individual could never forgo such luxury and perks for the life of crime. It shames me to think, while falling victim to naiveté and narrow-minded thinking, I once likened stupidity and rationale to the murder trials of Aaron Hernandez. “How could a budding star on one of NFL’s premier franchise throw everything away,” I often asked. No amount of rubbing elbows with the elites can masquerade the simple fact that some people are just bad, evil even, and that includes the millionaire star athletes that one never thinks could be capable of descending into the depths of murder.
Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence without parole for the murder of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd in 2013, was found dead in his prison cell Wednesday morning. The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, located in Lancaster, Massachusetts, ruled the death to be a suicide. Hernandez’s demise comes just five days after the former New England Patriots tight end was acquitted for the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. The last years of Hernandez’s life, culminating with the sudden suicide, has prompted many people, including television personalities, to label him as the latest sports tragedy, a term that seems inappropriate and bereft of sensitivity considering all of the devastation he has left behind at the age of 27.
There are certain disheartening happenings in the world of sports that are undeniable tragedies like the death of Loyola Marymount University star basketball player Hank Gathers, who succumbed to a heart condition and collapsed during a 1989 game, or legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal crash during the 2001 Daytona 500. They are the catastrophes that completely alters how you will view that sport, team or perhaps even life going forward. Hernandez does not belong, nor deserve to be in that category. He is, for myself, an emblem of the bursting of that aforementioned bubble that separates sports from society in the minds of so many. We were all treated to the harsh realization that complete darkness exists even in the sphere of our lives that we expect to be an escape from the hardships we regularly endure, and inspiration for our youths who seem to be increasingly marginalized and dismissed in this all-about-me era.
But Hernandez was not selfish. He was a cold-blooded killer whose legacy should not be one that causes us to lament the downward spiral he plummeted towards from his days at the University of Florida. He is not someone who warrants the “what could have been sentiment.” His case is one that people feel they must rationalize, as he had the talent and the opportunities to become a bonafide star in the league for many years, but chose the life of a thug – not the dramatized one on television or in music – but an authentic one who had never been witnessed on this big of a scale in this arena.
Several football players, past and present, have taken tow Twitter to express their shock and remorse for Hernandez’s daughter for having lost her father. But she lost her father long ago, and America lost what could have been an inspirational tale of a reformed troubled youth, something spectators are seeing less and less in the NFL. Instead, we were left with a despicable human being whose actions failed to show an iota of human decency or empathy, whose suicide adds to his fall from grace narrative and further overshadows the death of Lloyd, his family and everyone else who was affected by the wicked Hernandez.
The Hernandez trials are still baffling in that no player at his level (O.J. Simpson was already out of the limelight when he was tried for double homicide) has ever gone down such a path. He will forever be a reminder that no one atop this seemingly untouchable stratosphere we call professional sports is immune to leaving behind a life of despair and devastation. That’s a tragedy.