The Tragedy of Aaron Hernandez

Yesterday morning at about 9 AM, I woke up to a text from my mom to see if I had heard the latest news that broke out. Right before I responded, I scrolled through my Facebook timeline to see a link to an ESPN article titled “Aaron Hernandez Commits Suicide in Prison Cell”. Putting it simply, I was in shock. Seeing a story like his come to an end in such a tragic way was difficult to take in.

The Patriots were scheduled to visit the White House that day, being the first championship team to visit President Trump in office, despite boasting small numbers in player attendance. The following day would have the 2017 NFL schedule released to the public, with tickets going on sale in the coming days. Lastly, the NFL Draft is in seven days, creating more exciting animosity in the NFL. But when this news broke out of Hernandez’s suicide, everything else started to fade away, making for a dark day for both the Patriots and the NFL.

I kept thinking back to the first time I had heard of Aaron Hernandez, as a Patriots’ fourth round draft pick out of Florida. As he progressed through the organization, he proved to be a dominant addition to the team, becoming a part of one of the most intimidating “tight end tandems” the league had ever seen paired with Rob Gronkowski. They both combined for 24 touchdowns in the 2011 season and controlled spots in tight end stat categories.

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He was well on his way to having a successful football career, but he just couldn’t get himself out of trouble when in the summer of 2013, he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd. It was then discovered that he was involved both in a shooting in Miami earlier that year and a double homicide in Boston in the summer of 2012. He was sentenced for life in prison for the Odin Lloyd murder, but was found not guilty for the Boston and Miami murders on April 14th, 2017. Five days later, he committed suicide.

While I don’t have any sympathy for him and what he did, it’s a tragic story nonetheless. I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook saying that we shouldn’t be calling this a tragedy since he killed people and that he deserved to die. However, there’s another perspective that people are failing to take a glimpse at in this situation which makes the two mutually exclusive.

It’s the tragedy that a player, who had such potential and talent and looked like a sure-fire, accountable weapon for any team, couldn’t step away from gang affiliations despite making a life for himself that would, in the future, lead to a successful and happy career. Yesterday on First Take, Stephen A. Smith reacted to the early morning news and stated:

“He gets no sympathy from me. As far as I’m concerned, he got off easy… The best we can do for both the Odin Lloyd family and the Aaron Hernandez is to forget as much as we possibly can about this. Both families didn’t deserve to be associated with that, especially Hernandez’s four-year-old daughter (who will never know her father). He didn’t still have to be on the streets involving himself in gang-related activity. In the midst of signing a $40M contract, catching passes from Tom Brady, being coached by Bill Belichick, and getting checks cut for you by Robert Kraft, how do you throw it all away like that?”

That’s the real tragedy of it all: that he couldn’t escape and leave behind his affiliation for his main success. That, in the end, it’s what ultimately led to his tragic demise.

It’s very hard to understand that once you find yourself affiliated with gang-related activity, it stays with you. Your fingerprints are on everything that that gang has done and will do.

“My disappointment is what sports has meant to so many kids and what it meant to me,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter yesterday on FOX Sports’ Undisputed. “I’m empathetic of the current peer pressure that young people and the decisions they have to make. There’s so many kids that have been rescued from the streets by sports, and I thought [Hernandez] was going to be another case. This was a colossal disaster, and the kid had all the help in the world. He went to the best schools that offer everything from a medical to a clinical to any type of help an athlete would need. Sports was not able to rescue him because he wouldn’t let go of the streets. He was a high school All-American tight end, basketball star from Bristol, CT, went to play at the University of Florida under Urban Meyer, one of the best athletes to ever come out of Connecticut, and he still couldn’t let go. This is the best example of when people say, ‘Money changes you.’ No, it doesn’t. Money just makes you bigger than what you already are. As he continued to go up the scale in athletics, he only continued to get more violent. Sports has saved so many of these kids, but sports couldn’t save Aaron Hernandez.”

Hernandez had the world at his fingertips, but his life decisions and affiliations held him back. That’s the real tragedy.

What also was tough to see were all the jokes about his suicide. Twitter and other social media platforms were quick to mock his death. There has even been association with his death and the controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” which is about a high school student who commits suicide and the aftermath. The Huffington Post wrote that “we have a long way to go when it comes to having a healthy, productive dialogue about mental health” and that this is a perfect example. “Suicide should never be a punchline,” the article states.

As someone who’s been deeply affected by the concept of mental illness and suicide, I saw a lot of problems with seeing all these jokes and how we treat mental illness. While this man did kill people, the fact that he faced demons that tormented him that others with mental illness face as well is very hard to imagine. If we treated mental illness with the sensitivity that it deserves, the more likely people with these issues are to get help. The stigma attached to it often silences those who suffer from it and prevents them from seeking the help they need. So next time you see or make a joke about Hernandez’s suicide, take a second to think about that.

Reports say that there will be a book coming out about his life and what ultimately caused him to take his own life. Based on the rumors I’ve heard about why he did it, I’ll be very interested to read it once it hits shelves.

 

 

 

 

 

Greatness: Can it Be Debated Any Longer?

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If you weren’t watching Super Bowl LI on Sunday, what in the hell were you doing? For a game to gain not only national attention and viewership, but also international, nothing else on television during that timeslot was more important. That’s why stations will purposely not try to outdo the big game and put on something that’s “background noise.” Let’s face it, you just can’t compete with the Super Bowl.

Well, if you missed it, quick recap:

The Patriots embarked on the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, trailing the Falcons 28-3 at the end of the third quarter, to win in overtime (a Super Bowl first) 34-28 and earn their fifth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, and Brady and Belichick’s fifth together as a QB-coach duo.

At first, the game looked in favor of the Falcons, aiming for their first NFL championship win in franchise history. Matt Ryan, the league MVP, along with offensive weapons in Devonta Freeman (who made impressive runs) and Julio Jones (who made extraordinary, game-changing catches throughout), took control of the game early, leading 21-3 at halftime. Not to mention the defense who were dominating with Grady Jarrett sacking Brady three times and Robert Alford returning an interception for an 82-yard touchdown.

Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, AKA Blount Force Trauma, made a huge mistake turning the ball over on a fumble leading to one of the Falcons’ scores. For a player to do that who’s known for running the ball with power and flattening people, Patriots fans were only left to look on with heartbreak.

The Falcons played an absolutely amazing game; their high powered offense and ever-improving defense were poised to deliver Atlanta their first championship since the Braves won the World Series in 1995. They just forgot to take one factor into account: Tom Brady.

Brady had been in that situation before; being clutch in these types of scenarios is one of his specialties. With catches by his receivers, especially one by Julian Edelman which looked almost impossible to bring in, the Patriots offense had awoken. Danny Amendola and James White both grabbed a pass for scores, with two successful two-point conversions. Dont’a Hightower made a huge play on defense forcing a fumble off of Matt Ryan, turning over the ball to the New England offense, creating a huge turn in the win probability chart of the game. What Brady did in that last quarter going into overtime physically demonstrated to the world, to a large-scale audience why he is one of, if not, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football.

Arguments and debates have gone on for years about who is the best at different positions. At wide receiver, candidates include Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, and Terrell Owens. At running back, names like Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, and Jim Brown grace the list. At quarterback, however, one name has cemented itself, as of this past Sunday, at the top for many years to come, and it may be a while before it changes. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr., from San Mateo, CA is a name that will be remembered forever.

The past couple mornings after the big game, I’ve been watching way too much ESPN and sports-based television shows. One of the many topics they’ve been discussing is if Brady can finally be called the GOAT, the greatest of all time. While I’ve been sick of listening to the incessant, never-ending banter on ESPN’s First Take and FOX Sports’ Undisputed, they all agree and have made valid points as to why Brady takes the cake.

Of course, Touchdown Tommy is among a heavy amount of company in his field: Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, etc. What does Brady have that they all don’t? Answer: he is the only quarterback to win five Super Bowls, all of them for one team.

But wait, there’s more…

Four Super Bowl MVP awards (most ever), two league MVPs, 12 Pro Bowl Selections, 14 division titles (most ever for a QB), 9,094 career playoff passing yards (most ever), 63 career playoff touchdown passes (most ever), 25-9 playoff record (best all time), seven Super Bowl appearances (most ever), 2,071 career Super Bowl passing yards (most ever), 15 career Super Bowl touchdown passes (most ever),… do I need to keep going?

By the looks of this list, it can only keep going and going and going… you can compare him to the Energizer bunny.

Okay, maybe I’m a little bias. For those of you who know me, you know how much the Patriots are a part of my life. Every Sunday in the fall, when I’m not somewhere on Long Island or some random location in New Jersey playing rugby with my university club team, you’ll find me in front of the television watching the Pats catching any little shred of football I can that day. Even during rugby games, my focus is in two places at once: what we’ll do to win this game we’re playing right now and what the score of the Patriots game is (only if they’re playing while I’m playing).

But what can’t be denied is what’s on Brady’s resume. I mean, love him or hate him, you better damn well respect him.

Kraft said it best when he accepted the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night; after all that’s transpired over the past couple years with the Patriots and Brady, this Super Bowl win was definitely the sweetest, and it was one for the history books. Brady has endured a scandal, a suspension, and his mother falling ill leading up to the game. It almost seemed like this was going to be his revenge tour this season. But to clear up any tension, Brady wasn’t performing out of hate, but out of love: love for the game, love for his family, love for his team and fans.

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And can we just take note of how classy it was for Brady to shake Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand after winning rather than just blowing him off? I see no hate there.

A lot of people can argue the failures that Brady has went through in his career. Yes, he’s lost two Super Bowls to the Giants. Yes, Peyton Manning has a better record against him in the playoffs. People love to see Brady lose, and for a guy who’s been winning at almost everything, I can see why people are not too fond of him.

Greatness isn’t measured by losses and failures. Muhammed Ali lost fights in his career, and he’s still regarded as the greatest boxer who ever lived. Michael Jordan failed multiple times, and he’s still the greatest basketball player to ever hit an NBA court. Wayne Gretzky lost a couple games, and he’s still considered the greatest hockey player to ever skate on NHL ice.

What’s different between all of them and Brady? What’s causing people to consider them great and Brady’s legacy remaining on the fence? People expressed their hatred for all those athletes and they’re still considered legends. Why are you not giving Brady the credit he’s earned?

Brady has got the competitive heart, pure grit and determination, an everlasting knowledge of the game, and the will to win and do whatever it takes. It’s incredible what he’s accomplished, and if there’s any doubt and you still need more proof, just keep watching because he’s not done yet.

As I watched the last play that night where James White dove to cross the ball over the plane of the end zone, among my brothers in my fraternity, I can remember hugging the select few of us who were Patriot “faithfuls” who, all game, were gripping our stomachs and hearts with worry. It was a moment of exasperation turned to relief that I will never forget.

But then I started to think and reminisce on what led to this point. A lot of “what if’s” popped into my head: what if Brady was never a Patriot? What if Drew Bledsoe had never gotten hurt during that game against the Jets in 2001, introducing the nation to what would become “the Brady era”? What if the Patriots didn’t pick him for their sixth round, 199th pick? Would the Patriots still be the laughing stock of the league like they used to be? Where would we be?

What did the organization see in him? Was it that his last career college game at Michigan where he defeated Alabama in the Orange Bowl? Was it his ugly looking run in the 40-yard dash? Was it his average-looking, unathletic body that would not meet today’s standards for a successful NFL player? What was it?

Well, whatever it was, it sure as hell worked off in the long run.