Recent suicide of Aaron Hernandez a reminder of major problems in the NFL
The Santa Clara
April 27, 2017
Aaron Hernandez shocked the sports world when he hung himself in his prison cell last week. His case is a tricky one; it’s unclear what the appropriate reaction should be. You certainly don’t celebrate the life of a murderer—a man who shot and killed Odin Lloyd six times in the early morning of July 17, 2013. But you don’t celebrate Hernandez’s suicide either. The most common word used in covering the story was tragic.
It’s tragic that Odin Lloyd was murdered. It’s tragic that Hernandez threw his life away. For a brief moment it seemed like Hernandez escaped his rough childhood and troubled past. He was awarded a $40 million contract by the New England Patriots. He had a fiancé and a daughter who was just eight months old. But he gave all of that up.
You can’t blame Roger Goodell and the NFL for the sins of Aaron Hernandez. But some in the league deserve criticism—particularly the New England Patriots, who took Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The Patriots obviously had nothing to do with the murder of Odin Lloyd; it’d be beyond outrageous for anyone to suggest otherwise. Hernandez could have very well committed these crimes without a career in the NFL. But Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft are two of the many decision-makers in the NFL who value talent over character.
Aaron Hernandez had many red flags coming out of the University of Florida. He failed multiple drug tests and there were many reports of his poor character. But from a pure talent standpoint, Hernandez was a first round pick; the Patriots figured they’d take a gamble on him when he fell to Round 4.
This flaw is not unique to just the Patriots. Time and again players with almost no sense of morality are rewarded in the NFL. Adrian Peterson, who pled no contest in his child abuse case, just signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. This weekend at the NFL Draft, running back Joe Mixon will join the league despite punching a woman in the face.
Cases like Mixon’s and Peterson’s, in which criminals are still allowed to play in the NFL, is where Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL deserve blame. From an ethical perspective, the decision to ban these players is a no-brainer.
And even if you looked at it from a more cynical, business perspective, it’s also an obvious decision. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar league; it dominates TV ratings and is far and above the most popular sport in the country. It’ll continue to do just fine without players like Peterson or Mixon.
Goodell would be wise to learn from NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who lays down the hammer when it comes to discipline. Silver’s first and biggest case came when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught making racist comments on tape. Right away Silver banned Sterling for life from the NBA and levied the largest fine possible—$2.5 million. Compare this to Goodell, who originally suspended Ray Rice for two games for knocking his fiancé unconscious.
The other glaring issue the NFL must face, which is forced back into the spotlight given Hernandez’s suicide, is CTE. This brain disease—which can cause memory loss, depression, aggression and paranoia—is found with people who experienced repeated head trauma (i.e. football players).
It’s currently unknown if Hernandez suffered from CTE but his brain will be examined for the disease.
And if indeed it turns out that Hernandez did have CTE, it’s impossible to know if the disease was the driving factor behind Hernandez’s crimes.
Other notable players with CTE, such as Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, have committed suicide. And the NFL has paid $1 billion in settlements to former players who sued the league from withholding the consequences of concussions.
There’s no definitive CTE test for living players, but many of them are suspected of having it.
“O.J. Simpson is more likely than not to suffer from CTE,” said Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first doctor to discover the link between football and CTE. “I would bet my medical license on it.”
There’s no simple solution to CTE. Football is an inherently violent sport and to the NFL’s credit they are taking steps in making the game safer. But more can be done, such as eliminating the kickoff, which accounts for 23.4 percent of all concussions.
This rule wouldn’t have saved Aaron Hernandez; there’s nothing the NFL could’ve done to prevent the murder of Odin Lloyd. There’s no saving grace to this story.
The case of Aaron Hernandez highlights the issues plaguing the NFL. And the cruel reality is that nothing can be done—at least in the short term— to completely eliminate these problems.
Contact Andrew Slap at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.