On the "Florida Gators Aaron Hernandez calendar," how news gets made, and winning

Kevin C. Cox

The Internet is stupid because the people who use it are stupid. But the story of how Aaron Hernandez appearing on a "Florida calendar" can teach us a few things.

You have heard, by this point in this week, that Aaron Hernandez is the pictured athlete for the month of July in "the 2014 Florida Gators calendar." This is, depending on your stake in the sports world, either "embarrassing," or a "fail," or "offensive," or in some way a thing worth turning into a joke with Florida as the punchline.

This is a mistake. It's worth pointing out. It's funny to some people. I get all that, I do.

But Hernandez showing up in a 2014 Florida calendar is mostly indicative of bad luck when it comes to how calendars are produced. And I think the hubbub about it has way less to do with Hernandez than Florida, and with how dry the well for sports news is in the depths of summer — and with how winners get to write history, and losers can't do much but shut up and deal with it.

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The tweet that started all of this is this one, sent Monday morning:

Kunkel doesn't profess to be part of any particular collegiate fan base, just a "long-suffering Jets fan," but he does list his location on Twitter as Orlando, and his bio states that he works for Full Sail. So we can be pretty sure that he's this same Jimi Kunkel on LinkedIn, where he's listed as a University of Florida graduate, and describes himself as "a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and a longtime Central Florida resident."

Surely, even though he doesn't own the calendar himself — he said he got the picture from a Facebook friend of his — he knows the tenor of the discussion about Florida at the moment, and he knew that sending this picture to a "huge Canes fan" would be a great way to draw attention to it. Update: On Friday, Kunkel tweeted me to clarify that he's a Miami fan, had no idea this was breaking news or newsworthy, and just thought it was funny:

At this point, it doesn't matter why he sent it, because it's blown up: After Throw the Flag first posted about the calendar on Monday, the image has made the circuit of the sports Internet, with basically the only substantive reporting in the story since then coming from Associated Press reporter Mark Long, who asked Florida spokesman Dan Apple for comment.

Apple said the calendar was not produced by the university, but a third party. Since it's already been printed and distributed for sale, there's not much the school can do, Apple said.

"There are thousands of Gators products for approval in the pipeline at any given moment," he said.

He added that the school just became aware of the situation on Monday.

Apple says the school advised the calendar's maker that Florida no longer approves of the product, but that those already printed will not be recalled.

That clarification, which has been passed along in some of the AP-sourced writeups since Tuesday, came on the heels of Apple tweeting on Monday that the calendar would have been approved in the spring of 2013, and didn't come from Florida's marketing department.

These are facts that really should have been obvious to anyone who a) knows something about how calendars are produced, or b) knows something about collegiate licensing, or c) took a minute to do some Googling, but, for the sake of clarity: A 2014 calendar is likely to have been designed, approved, and manufactured by mid-2013 at the latest, because calendars for any given year usually go on sale by August or September of the year prior.

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The Target page for the calendar that Deadspin's Sean Newell linked to — which has since disappeared, though we'll get back to that — listed its release date as August 1, 2013. And the back of the calendar, which you can still see via the Walmart page for it, boasts that the calendar also includes the months of September to December 2013 — helpful for people who buy calendars for academic years, or in the fall, or really at any point before New Year's Eve, but not so much for people who buy calendars right before their old ones need to be tossed.

I know some of this because my mom — who still puts up multiple calendars a year back home, in various rooms of our house — is someone who buys calendars well in advance, when she can get the specific ones she likes, or get them bundled for lower prices. And I confirmed with her today that next year's calendars being for sale in the summer — and, thus, approved well in advance of the summer — is not unusual. A 2015 Florida Gators calendar published by Turner Licensing is already available for pre-order at Calendars.com, though it won't ship until late August.

So, for the record: Calendars are usually produced well in advance, which makes a situation where part of the calendar could unexpectedly become objectionable possible.

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Licensing also plays a part here: Florida approved this licensed 2014 calendar in the spring, per Apple, but with literally thousands of other Florida products.

Here's his full statement:

"The calendar in reference is a product that was produced through a third-party company and approved in the Spring of 2013, months in advance of any charges being filed against Aaron Hernandez. There are thousands of Gator products in the pipeline for approval at any given time. Once approved, it is difficult to revisit these items when new situations arise. We regret that this calendar is in circulation in its current form. We have since notified the licensee that it is no longer approved."

Is it reasonable to assume that Aaron Hernandez, as of March or April or May 2013, would have been a worthwhile figure to feature on licensed products? Absolutely. Is it reasonable to assume that someone would have remembered that this one particular product, one in a stream of thousands, was approved in July 2013, and worked to avert this story? Maybe, but probably not. Newell noted as much in his Deadspin writeup (sic):

Maybe someone, somewhere should have remembered that they approved a calendar with an alleged murdered a few weeks earlier-if the spring 2013 timeframe is accurate-but that's a pretty small nit to pick.

And yet that has been ignored this week, because getting the same cheap laughs about Florida being "incompetent" or concern-trolling about an alleged murderer once having played for Florida — neither of which I find particularly tasteful, because I think making light of the Aaron Hernandez saga is trivializing the lives he's irrevocably and negatively impacted — is the point here.

Florida went out of its way to remove visible references to Hernandez as swiftly as possible when he was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, to the point that I and others wondered if it was maybe too quick an erasure; forgetting that a calendar approved before he was ever in trouble existed is a minor thing, and in the grand scheme of things, better fodder for laughs than anything else.

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Some good news: Florida's communication with its licensee, Turner Licensing — which brags that it's "an industry leader with over 20 years of experience in licensed sports calendars" and produces products for "200-plus teams in over 20 distinctive formats — has also apparently led to the calendar being discontinued. Fanatics, which handles Florida's online store, lists it as discontinued, and I can't find the calendar in Florida's online store, or Target's, after seeing it available via both sites on Tuesday. I can't find it via Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble, either, and while I can find it at Walmart, or at Calendars.com, I can't buy it.

There are points to be made about how this might be a good teachable moment about the process for licensing approval, and there is righteous frustration to be vented about how Florida should have dropped everything and scrubbed every mention of Hernandez last summer. But when Florida was made aware of this issue, it responded quickly, and appears to have gotten something accomplished.

And good for Florida's proactivity in that regard, and what it appears to have done. It's not as if Florida was alone in spotlighting Hernandez, but it is true that Florida's reacted more promptly to his alleged horrors.

GatorZone's Scott Carter did some Googling of his own on Tuesday, and noted that Hernandez is in the New England Patriots' 2014 calendar, too, as the picture for February. And not only is that calendar still for sale online at Target, it's still for sale in the Patriots ProShop.

And not only is Hernandez in the 2014 Patriots calendar, he was in the 2013 Patriots calendar, which prompted a few of these same sorts of stories, including one that noted that he was scheduled to be the featured player for February and expected that to have been changed. (I think that's a misread of the back of the calendar; it appears to me that Hernandez was actually set to be the featured player for March, as he's the third of 12 pictured players.)

Did anyone tweet about Aaron Hernandez appearing on a calendar from January 31 to April 1? Nope. And it's possible that that means his image didn't actually make it to print.

But if we're looking for institutions to play gotcha with in regards to Aaron Hernandez, as the continual game of gotcha with Florida suggests, it would follow that the same game would be played with the Patriots, who employed Hernandez at the time of his alleged murders, and may or may not have turned the other cheek to many more significant clues about him being a murderer.

And if we're looking to play gotcha with institutions that licensed calendars, doing so with the institution that licensed a calendar that featured Hernandez after a previous calendar featured Hernandez and drew scoffs would be appropriate, I think.

Does anyone care that Hernandez is, was, or might have been in a 2014 Patriots calendar? Not really, not that I can tell. So maybe this isn't about playing gotcha with memories of an alleged murderer.

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Frankly, l think this "story" is mostly about two things.

First, this is mostly "news" because there's not much else to talk about in sports at the moment. It took until June 30, 2014 for Hernandez being the pictured athlete for July in a 2014 calendar to even become publicly known; no one gave a damn that Hernandez was "Mr. July" until the day before July —which speaks to how little most people, even those currently deeply embarrassed or amused by it, care about the pictures on wall calendars. And it really only became known because a Florida grad tweeted a picture to a Miami fan; it definitely needed the extra oomph of rivalry's uncharitability to turn into news.

It's a minor, understandable mistake, but there's simply not much else to write stories about right now, and mistakes will always count as "news," especially when someone's laughing at the mistake.

Second, and more importantly, this is all about finding more reasons to laugh at Florida, and fairness doesn't matter when you're looking for a joke. Two Gators blocked each other against Georgia Southern, and the facts that the play got a first down and the drive got a touchdown don't matter, because it looked stupid, and Florida lost to Georgia Southern. Florida was ruinously injured in 2013, but, well, Florida went 4-8. Florida misspells something, and the irony is humorous.

Even if various and opposing facts are true, some matter more than others, and it's usually the first or most-touted ones that matter most; it's very hard to make up for a first impression. It's a fact that Florida is coming off its worst football season in decades, and that fact has been fundamental to a narrative of Florida being "in disarray" or something.

It's a little dismaying that Jimi Kunkel, a graduate of Florida's journalism school, didn't realize that this calendar was rubber-stamped, rather than sent out, by Florida, but that "fact" is out there in the ether now, and its veracity matters less than its spread.

And in our era of virality, the version of the truth that is most popular is the one that is truest. I have thought about the old Winston Churchill saying about how history is written by the victors often this offseason, given that I write a Florida blog and have, for the first time in my lifetime, a losing season of Florida football to explain and investigate.

But until today, when I looked it up, I didn't know that "History is written by the victors" is probably apocryphal, or that it's not listed as a Churchill saying in the 12th edition of Bartlett's Famous Quotations, which I own.

And I definitely didn't know that it sounds a lot like "We will go down in history either as the world's greatest statesmen or its worst villains" and "The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused," both of which were uttered by Hermann Goering, the highest-ranking Nazi to be tried at Nuremberg.

The quote we think of as Churchill knowingly nodding at how the sausage of history is made is actually probably one of Hitler's lieutenants knowingly nodding at how the sausage of history is made. But Churchill's team won, the story sounds better this way, and, once established, a good story's permeation is practically permanent, and certainly near impossible for future storytellers to erase.

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In the scoreboard society we live in, winners get to determine the shape of the truth. Florida and its fans aren't "winners" right now, and so we don't. So be it.

But Churchill also actually said this, per Bartlett's, in a speech given in 1952: "Everyone has his day and some days last longer than others."

Those folks laughing at Florida now would do well to remember that. I will.

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