By Brandon Niles Explore Big Sky Sports Columnist
Give credit to the New England Patriots for handling the Aaron Hernandez situation so well. It’s easy to cut a backup center or a fourth-string defensive back in the NFL when they’re in trouble with the law. It’s another thing entirely to cut one of the three best tight ends in the league.
The tragic tale of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is far from over, as evidence continues to stack up against him in the murder of Odin Lloyd, found on June 17 near Hernandez’s home. Since Hernandez’s arrest on June 26, his name has been mentioned in another investigation of a double homicide that occurred approximately a year prior.
Once Hernandez was arrested, the New England Patriots immediately released him from their roster.
Hernandez is one of the most talented young players in the league, an elite tight end who signed a five-year, $40-million contract this past year. One can only speculate why he would allegedly commit such a heinous crime. If he’s convicted, it will be one of the most alarming examples of violence in professional sports since the O.J. Simpson trial nearly 20 years ago.
For the record, I hate the Patriots. As a Miami Dolphins fan, I naturally despise the other teams in the AFC East Division: the Jets, Patriots, and Bills, the order of my loathing dependent on how good each team is. So the fact that I hate the Patriots the most is just a compliment to them for achieving continued success during the past decade-plus.
However, I have to give credit where credit is due. The Patriots cut Hernandez after he was arrested and have done an excellent job distancing themselves from the situation. Furthermore, in an admirable public relations act, the team held a free jersey swap at the New England Patriots ProShop for fans to exchange their Hernandez jersey for one worn by a different player.
The Patriots didn’t have to do that; fans wouldn’t have been angry with the team for not exchanging the jerseys. Several news sources announced reasons behind the swap, from the team wanting to treat fans fairly, to the team not wanting kids to be disappointed when their parents try to explain why they can’t wear their favorite jersey. The Patriots said they lost more than $200,000 in the exchange.
Kudos to the Pats. And kudos to the media for focusing its attention on the crime rather than the on-field impact to the team. Sometimes, the tragic stories in sports need to be reported with the horrific frankness they deserve.
While Hernandez’s criminal trial likely remains months away, the Patriots have expertly distanced the team from the situation as best they could. They’ve also done something with the fans in mind, a rare act in professional sports.
I still hope the Dolphins sweep the Patriots this year and they miss the playoffs, but I’m finding it hard to hate them with the same fervor I’m accustomed to.