The Hard Fall of Aaron Hernandez

47 National Football League (NFL) players have been arrested since the Super Bowl in early February. None however, have the name recognition of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was taken into police custody and charged with first-degree murder in addition to five gun-related charges on June 26. On August 22, Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of 27 year-old Odin Lloyd, setting up what promises to be one of the most intriguing legal hearings in recent history.

Though former Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson was certainly a more accomplished player when he was charged with murder in 1994, Hernandez’s star-status ought not to be underestimated. His rookie year in 2010, as a 6-2, 250 lbs 21 year-old, he caught 45 passes for 563 yards and six touchdowns – the best stat line of any rookie tight end that year other than fellow Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski. In 2011, Gronkowski and Hernandez teamed up for the single greatest statistical season of any tight end combination in the history of the National Football League, with Hernandez finishing with 79 catches, 910 yards and seven touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl at season’s end, and although he was eventually awarded a five-year, $40 million contract, his 2012 season was injury-plagued and disappointing.

Now, Hernandez is facing far more serious problems than a nagging shoulder injury. Since Odin Lloyd was found fatally shot in North Attleborough, Massachusetts on June 17, ties between Hernandez and the murder had surfaced with greater and greater abundance until he was finally taken into custody a week later. From video surveillance footage showing Hernandez pacing his home with a Glock .45 pistol in hand, to texts from the victim to his sister, to accounts from friends, the evidence is piling up in this high-profile case. While most are quick to assume that the indictment and the evidence against him means that Aaron Hernandez will sit in a prison cell for the rest of his life, that may not be the case.

For Hernandez, skirting the law is nothing foreign. Since 2007, he has been linked to six shootings, but until June he had escaped any consequence. Further, in January of 2013, Hernandez and a friend were pulled over for going 105 m.p.h. The friend driving was under the influence, but Hernandez supposedly stuck his head out the window and quipped, “Trooper, I’m Aaron Hernandez – it’s OK.” In March of 2013, police were called to Hernandez’s beach rental house for a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, but no arrest was made. While playing under legendary coach Urban Meyer at the University of Florida, Hernandez had more significant problems. In April of 2007, he assaulted a waiter at a Gainesville restaurant, rupturing the waiter’s eardrum with a punch. The matter was settled out of court, supposedly with Gator coaches. In the spring of 2010, months before the NFL draft, Hernandez was out at Gainesville bars when someone tried to steal a chain off one of his teammates. A shooting followed, and one of the victims described the assailant as possibly Hispanic or Hawaiian with multiple tattoos on his arms – a description matching Hernandez. Nothing became of it all, and the case is still open.

On April 24, 2010, 25 teams passed on the opportunity to draft Hernandez due to his shady history. He had been a first-team All-American and was the winner of the 2009 John Mackey Award as college football’s top tight end, but rumors of his recreational drug use and the rough crowd he was associated with drove teams away. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft chose to ignore the warning signs and grabbed the big tight end with freakish athletic ability about 15 spots after what was projected for him. The rest is history, and now we all wait to see if the escape artist that is Aaron Hernandez can slither out of another tight spot. Frankly, it would not be shocking if he did. There has been no murder weapon found and no witness to the murder or its preparation. There is, however, significant circumstantial evidence. For a man with such a long history of eluding consequences, that circumstantial evidence may not be enough. All we can do now is sit and wait for the trial.

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