This isn’t about the end of a Patriots career, but the end of a life.
Maybe you don’t need the reminder. I’m not ashamed to admit I have at occasional points during this stunning Aaron Hernandez saga.
The tragedy is not that an incredibly gifted 23-year-old football player has, perhaps for the time being, perhaps forever, thrown his life of accolades and riches away for — well, for what, exactly?
Misplaced loyalties to old friends, or something much more sinister?
The tragedy is that Odin Lloyd, 27-years-old, a brother, son, and friend, met his violent demise. Whether he was the victim of circumstance, poor choices, or something else, no man deserves to die by multiple gunshot wounds at the hand of another.
I’ll remind myself of that even as the Hernandez story — tragic, sad, surreal, and only just beginning with his arrest this morning at his North Attleboro home — burrows into the national consciousness and we hear less and less about the victim with each passing day.
As someone who occasionally wonders if there’s hypocrisy in the Patriots Way philosophy, I must give the Patriots kudos for acknowledging that there’s more to this than just the family business of football.
Because Hernandez is such a valuable football player — two weeks ago it appeared, with the absence of Rob Gronkowski, that the offense would be framed around him during the season’s first Sundays — it would have been understandable if they played the due process card.
They wouldn’t be the first to do so with an essential player. The Ravens waited out Ray Lewis’s court process after his arrest in connection with a double murder in 2000. Look for him on an NFL studio set this fall.
Instead, Hernandez’s release was announced within the hour after his arrest. The wording was perfect, thoughtful and precise:
“A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do.”
It also left you wondering how much they know that we don’t. The answers can’t keep pace with the questions. What has he done that’s yet to be discovered or revealed? Have they ever suspected that he was capable of something like this? What do they know about that bizarre Florida shooting? Has something changed in his life recently that changed him?
Or is this a case of warped loyalty to childhood friends who are no friends at all?
Would he have been better off being drafted by, say, the San Diego Chargers than the Patriots, so close to his Bristol, Connecticut youth?
It’s impossible to avoid getting caught up in the conjecture and what-ifs. What we do know for sure also happens to be the least-important information in the story, albeit information that matters in our culture: losing Hernandez will have a major effect on the Patriots.
A month ago, wasn’t a surer thing on the roster to be back, save for Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, and another cornerstone or two. He is as versatile and widely talented as any offensive player the Patriots have had in recent memory.
His ability to play multiple positions well — and grasp the offense — was crucial in the Patriots’ no-huddle, high-octane offense.
After just three NFL seasons, he was already 23d on the franchise list for receptions (175). He had 18 receiving touchdowns, three more than Kevin Faulk, four fewer than Terry Glenn. His best season was 2011, when he made 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games.
Now, the Patriots’ leading returning receiver is Julian Edelman, who had 21 catches for 235 yards last season. Tom Brady must he having Doug Gabriel flashbacks right now.
But how they fill in the gaps is a story for September.
One life has been lost. A promising football career has been wasted.
Praise to the Patriots for recognizing the former is so much more important than the latter.