Aaron Hernandez's greatest skill as a football player is his versatility, which has been used by both the Florida Gators and New England Patriots to keep defenses guessing. But his unpredictability off the field has long been a concern for those teams, and, now, with Hernandez squarely within the bounds of a homicide investigation, the question marks and confusion aren't good things — but guessing he may need a defense in court seems like a rational conclusion.
The latest development comes in the form of a story from FOX 25 Boston's Ted Daniel, who wrote on Wednesday night that, according to a source, Hernandez drove a car containing four men, including homicide victim Orin Lloyd, on the night Lloyd's body was discovered about a mile from Hernandez's North Attleboro home — and that forensic evidence places a car driven by Hernandez at the scene. Police also visited Hernandez's home for the second straight day on Wednesday, getting no answer in the morning after executing a search warrant and leaving with a box on Tuesday.
This sounds bad for Hernandez, as do the details that Lloyd dated the sister of Hernandez's girlfriend and that a law enforcement source told Daniel the homicide is "drug-related," and specifically to marijuana. It doesn't take much to assume a crime of passion or a drug deal gone wrong from those scant details, especially because there's nothing else to go on, and because Hernandez has a history of smoking marijuana dating back to his time at Florida.
But there's a difference between things sounding bad and things being bad. It sounds bad that Hernandez knew and apparently associated with a guy who was killed, and was with him on the night of his death; it would be bad if police had enough evidence to charge Hernandez with something. It sounds bad that Hernandez and the victim dated sisters, but that detail has essentially no non-circumstantial value in a courtroom on its own; it would be bad if Hernandez and his girlfriend had conspired with her sister to kill her boyfriend.
It sounds bad that Hernandez isn't fully cooperating with law enforcement, but directing cops to his lawyer is standard operating procedure more than a tipping of the hand. And the "drug-related" detail sounds bad because that exact term is designed to sound bad: What we assume when we hear "drug-related" is that, because drugs were involved, something bad happened. (We also assume any "drug" is a bad thing, when the vast majority of drugs are legal, but that's a semantic discussion for another day.) And it sounds awful that a lawsuit alleges that Hernandez shot a friend in a club in Miami earlier this year, but "lawsuit alleges" precedes many of the most sensational headlines in American life, and some allegations in lawsuits turn out to be complete bullshit.
My own amateur, in-no-way-am-I-a-lawyer reading of the situation is that Hernandez is in trouble deep, and will probably face a charge of some kind, even if it is primarily used as a means of encouraging cooperation. And that is bad, but I think you have to read all the details together to even get there.
As for the bearing Hernandez's trouble has on Florida: Adults are responsible for their own actions, and the Gators have as much to do with this investigation as the Patriots do.
. Whatever Hernandez is doing reflects on him, and not his college (one he may never have graduated from, given his early departure for the NFL), and certainly not on a football program with only a handful of decision-makers remaining from his time at Florida. This is obviously an extreme example, but it reinforces a point worth making in regards to athletes who commit crimes: It's their fault, not their coaches' fault. No one blames the general manager of a Publix if her best cashier gets arrested for possession — and no one cares, because there's no media interest in covering Publix in the same way.
I hope Hernandez emerges from this investigation with an exoneration, or something close, but I fear he won't, and that's sad, because I really do enjoy watching the guy we call Chico play football. But for Chico to get back on the field, he's going to have to square things away with The Man.
Remember where Rae Carruth went to college? Colorado.