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28/04/2017

At this point, everyone knows what happened to New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez. Everyone knows that after being acquitted of two more murder charges, Hernandez returned to prison to serve the remainder of a life sentence after being found guilty of the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. Everyone knows that days later, on April 19th, Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell of an apparent suicide. Everyone knows that he had scrawled bible verses across his forehead and left three separate  notes, one each for his fiancée, his daughter and (apparently) his attorney. Everyone knows that this is a tragic end to the tumultuous tale of a talented and troubled young man.

What I don't really know - or understand - for that matter, is how things got to where they are when there were so many warning signs early on that Hernandez wasn't stable or sound in his judgement and his actions. He had been in several physical altercations during his college career and been questioned on other gun-related incidents. Odin Lloyd was far from the beginning.

One particular response to Hernandez's suicide struck me as especially telling.

Floyd Reese was a senior football advisor with the New England Patriots from 2009 - 2012. Hernandez was drafted to the team in 2010, and as Reese puts it, the team was not oblivious to his past at the time. It was his past and his reputation, in fact, that positioned Hernandez as a 4th round draft pick instead of seeing him go in the 1st round.

Speaking to Greg A. Bedard at The MMQB, Reese said,

"We knew he had some issues prior. [Former Florida coach] Urban Meyer and Bill [Belichick] were very, very close, and I think Urban convinced Bill that, you know, that these things weren't going to be an issue. When we structured his first contract, the rookie contract, we probably had 75 percent of the money in the contract set up so that he would only make it if he stayed out of trouble, didn't miss meetings, was always there doing the right thing. And for the period of the original contract, he lived up to every bit of it. So it turned out well. Of course, after that, after he signed [his $40 million contract extension, things kind of went awry."

'Went awry' is a pretty light way to put it, given the circumstances.

What I don't understand, what I can't wrap my head around, is how nothing else was done to help a player proven to be that volatile. Hernandez was a 1st round draft pick caliber player whose efficacy and reliability were called into question because of his actions. He was also a young man with a rocky past. He lost his father quite young and his step father had a lengthy criminal record and a history of abusing Aaron's mother. He lacked any real adult role models at home and it seems that none were provided for him in his football career either.

We often think of sports as a world of mentorship. Coaches guide the teams, veterans guide the rookies and the entire team does better as a result. It's a family and, in Hernandez's case, it seems that this family was as unaware of how to help him as his actual family. Did anyone approach him about seeking help? Did anyone try to integrate him into a more positive and healthy life off the field? They knew enough about his issues to structure his contract in a way that made Hernandez clean up his act, but this seems to have acted as the proverbial bandaid on a bullet hole. Wasn't there more that could have been done?

Reese quite literally says that when conditions were in place to monitor his behaviour and activity, contingent on his being paid, Hernandez seemed more committed to himself, his team and his craft.

Why not have a contract clause that stipulates no payment unless Hernandez saw a therapist or get counselling at regular intervals? Anger management? Behavioural therapy? Any one of these could have been written into the body of that juicy $40 million contract and could - possibly - have prevented or at least mitigated the tragedy of this story.

And contract-mandatory therapy is nowhere near the craziest thing stipulated to in a professional sports contract!

AC Milan officials have written into Mario Balotelli's contract that they are able to - at all times - monitor, edit and control his Facebook and Twitter accounts in order to prevent him from drawing undue attention to himself and the team with his politically charged social media posts. For good measure they also wrote themselves the right to monitor his blood-alcohol levels as well!

The complete opposite of that is the agreement the Cleveland Indians came to in 1919 with Ray Caldwell, infamous for his heavy drinking and late hours. The Indians stipulated that Caldwell MUST get drunk after every single game. The next day he was to rest, the next to train and then pitch again on the fourth day. This was all done to control when and where he got into trouble so that it wouldn't impact the team. Ethical? Not really. Effective? Yes.

Hell, teams have even written up clauses regarding space travel. 

Premiere League's Sunderland A.F.C stipulated in Stefan Schwarz's 1999 contract that Schwarz "never leave Earth's atmosphere" after a friend of his booked a seat on a Virgin Galactic space flight and they worried he might invite Schwarz along.

In closing, I'm not trying to suggest that the Patriots did anything to contribute to what Hernandez did and, in truth, it seems that they truly did have his best interests - if not health - in mind. What I am saying, however, is that there clearly could have been more done to monitor and rectify his troubled mind and more troubling behaviour. This isn't the responsibility of the New England Patriots, granted, but wouldn't it be a good thing? Might it not have prevented some of the tragic events we're now reading about?

I mean, if we can ban Stefan Schwarz from space AND make Roy Caldwell get drunk, couldn't we suggest that someone with a checkered past and home life sit down and talk with somebody about what's going on in their head?


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