Aaron Hernandez is facing at least one murder charge. The heinous nature of the crime has overwhelmed a sports media methodology best fit for the shallow end. Murder is too grave, nuanced and existential to foster sledge-hammered column angles, armchair psychology and baseless speculation. To properly “embrace debate” on the story, we must have a more accommodating target. The past week it has been Hernandez’ former college coach, Urban Meyer.
Hernandez had issues with the Gators. His arrest is merely the most notable among a profusion of arrests from former Florida players. It’s fair to revisit Meyer’s legacy. That said, insinuating Meyer bears responsibility for an alleged, cold-blooded murder is irresponsible and unfair.
We can presume Hernandez received some level of special treatment during his studies at Florida. He was a football player. He was an exceptionally talented football player. That should not be surprising.
Gifted people receive extra privileges. The more benefits you provide to others, the more costs others will bear to keep you providing them. That’s not a Meyer thing. That’s not a college football thing. That’s not a sports thing. That’s a life thing. It happens, to varying extents, in every field of human activity. Meyer “enabled” Hernandez just as many editors “enabled” Hunter S. Thompson.
Meyer described Hernandez’ troubles as “very minor stuff,” “relatively speaking.” Much of it was. Hernandez tested positive for marijuana enough times to trigger a reported one-game suspension. A college student using marijuana is hardly abnormal delinquency. There’s no slippery slope from a bong hit to execution-style murder.
Hernandez punched someone in a bar. He was not charged. That’s not great. But, again, it is hardly abnormal for a college football player. He’s not the first intoxicated athlete to throw a punch. In many cases, that’s the wrong place, the wrong time and the wrong amount of substances consumed.
The sticking point is the 2007 shooting incident. Police ruled Hernandez out as a suspect. Meyer claims he was told Hernandez was “questioned about being a witness” and “not involved.” Details seem suspicious. Meyer’s account, providing convenient absolution, warrants skepticism. But we’ll credit conspiracy theories when someone connects the dots in print.
Assessing what we can prove Meyer knew, it appears he acted proportionally. Hernandez looked like a player who was immature and needed stability and guidance, not a budding sociopath. That’s something almost every college football coach deals with routinely. Suggestions Meyer could have seen it coming or could have taken actions to thwart it are specious and naive.
This all may add up with hindsight. At the time, it wasn’t enough for Meyer to pull Hernandez from the field. It wasn’t enough to keep Bill Belichick from taking a punt on him as a late-round value pick. Both had dealings with Hernandez. Both were likely as dumbfounded by this alleged crime as anyone else.
Meyer may tell parents he’s a molder of men. In reality, he’s a football coach. He’s a relentless, pragmatic and incredibly successful one. He coached Hernandez for the same reason Tim Tebow and Tom Brady threw passes to him: he helped win football games. You may not appreciate Meyer’s manner or his methods. That does not mean he’s bears any responsibility for an alleged murder.
[Photos via Getty, @cjzero]