By: Steve Balestrieri
“I’ve been charmed by a sociopath”. – Dr. Jennifer Melfi, the Sopranos
Life imitated Hollywood in August of 2012 when the New England Patriots rewarded then tight end Aaron Hernandez with a $40 million contract extension praising his production, work ethic and most importantly… his character.
Fast forward to just a year later and now the world knows we were all conned. All of us, the league, the NFL, the New England Patriots, starting with owner Robert Kraft and followed by head coach Bill Belichick, the fans of the franchise and finally the fans of Hernandez the player.
Aaron Hernandez conned everyone into believing that he had turned his life around. (FILE:USPresswire)
We bought a bill of goods unseen since George C. Parker used to sell tourists famous NYC monuments including the Brooklyn Bridge, which he later claimed to sell twice a week for years. Hernandez charmed and conned everyone with the tears at his signing, citing getting a second chance and having people (the Krafts and the Patriots) for believing in his character.
And we bought it, every one of us. Because we wanted to believe in a good story, where a young man who had his troubles could rise above it all and be a great player, a great guy and someone who “gets it”.
Hernandez charmed and conned a captive audience in August, stating…”you get changed by Bill Belichick’s way. You get changed by the Patriots’ way,” Hernandez said at the time. “Now that I’m a Patriot, I have to start living like one, and making the right decisions for them.”
And yes we all bought it hook, line and sinker because at the time I didn’t hear one thing uttered either on the air or in print that anyone thought he was giving the NFL world a collective snow job unheard of until just a few days ago.
Did anyone think otherwise, please raise your hand….anyone? Bueller? Didn’t think so. But now, much of the mainstream media is pouncing on the Patriots and especially Kraft and Belichick attempting to place some of the blame on the shoulders of the team.
Even Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston, who has covered the Patriots for so long and well was taken aback by the events that unfolded.
“It’s stunning on every level, a reminder that as much as we think we might know the professional athletes we cover, chances are we really don’t,” Reiss wrote on June 26. “And sometimes, as is the case here, even the teams that employ them and deem them worthy of a megabucks contract extension don’t really know them either.”
Are the Patriots guilty of anything? While they can certainly be pointed at as having been as gullible as the rest of us…not really. When a tearful Hernandez handed over a check to the Kraft Foundation, they too were conned into believing the best about the man.
And the Patriots, while having never uttered the term “the Patriot Way”, they certainly embraced it as an organization. They adopted a slightly superior attitude that they were above it all. Well, all of that came crashing down to earth with the events of this June.
The Patriots and Kraft made a huge error in judgment in rewarding Hernandez with a huge contract extension. That is obvious, but sometimes even a savvy businessman like Kraft gets conned. And he did here, because there isn’t any way that he would have given a $40 million dollar extension to someone he had reservations about.
Hernandez is being charged for the murder of Odin Lloyd as well as for five other weapons charges. It is important to note that Hernandez hasn’t been convicted of anything at this point. However, the more that comes out about this story the worse it seems to get. Now Boston police are trying to place Hernandez at the scene of a double murder from 2012….the hits just keep on coming.
The Patriots ultimately failed in recognizing that Hernandez was not the person he portrayed publicly and that would start with their own security department. Someone should have been more on top of things, which I am sure will be looked at and closely.
Having worked as a security professional for some very wealthy clients and at times some Hollywood celebrities, any breakdown in security is generally looked at very unfavorably and Mr. Kraft will undoubtedly change many of the things they’re now doing as well as personnel. But that is an internal matter, and one we’ll never know about publicly.
The Krafts and the Patriots did act quickly once Hernandez was arrested. They released him less than an hour later once the news broke that he was brought into custody. It was later reported by Ian Rapoport from the NFL Network that the team held a meeting a week prior to the arrest and came to the conclusion that if Hernandez was arrested for anything concerning the death of Lloyd, they would release him.
And they did release him immediately; they also removed all items with Hernandez name from the Patriots Pro Shop as well as erased all mentions of him in any stats and media releases. On Friday the Patriots announced that they will offer fans a buy-back program for anyone who purchased a Hernandez jersey in their Pro-Shop or on-line from the Patriots.com. Hernandez jerseys will be exchanged for items of equal value.
Some criticism has been leveled at the team for merely trying to protect their brand which while true isn’t the entire story. They’re trying to erase a huge mistake in judgment on their part and don’t want to be reminded by seeing those jerseys in the stands at Gillette Stadium during games.
But ultimately, they did it because it was the right thing to do. And if Hernandez is found guilty of these charges….then we were all conned by a sociopath. Just like Dr. Melfi. Life imitating Hollywood.