Last week we saw the ugly side of sports when New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder.
The sight of his arrest quickly brought to mind something I written about in the past and still holds true today. Athletic teams across every landscape of sports really dread the offseason in so many ways. That reminded me of a story former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi told me about a former NFL player who signed two huge contracts, but since leaving the game, has gone through a divorce, spent basically all of the money and was facing major legal issues since he retired from the game.
“I love the offseason in the fact that I can kind of rejuvenate my batteries from such a draining sport and being judged on just 16 events each year. I hate it in many ways because for the first time a lot of these players are not in a structured environment and they get into trouble,” Venturi said. “Some of these guys have way too much free time, they start to hang out with some people that don’t have their best interests in mind, both male and female, and they have a lot of money. They attract people that during the season they stay away from because they are either practicing, at meetings, traveling or playing, and they stay in shape in the months after the season. But after these mini-camp sessions, they are all by themselves in some cases and each and every year we see a larger number of them get into trouble for either alcohol or drug issues or because of them having a loaded gun on them. You have enough money to have someone drive you to where you want to go and get back. And if you need a gun to protect you in where you are going then you shouldn’t be there. It scares the daylights out of me to tell you the truth. This is not a civil service job and it is very short. Coaching or playing in this sport, or to be honest in any job today, for any length of time is rare. There are not a lot of gold watches and service time parties being given out there anymore. It is part of the world we live in.”
Besides the Hernandez issue there were two other NFL players in Indianapolis Colts safety Joe Lefeged and Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent were arrested last week. Lefeged was charged with carrying a firearm without a license, having an unregistered firearm, having unregistered ammunition and the presence of a firearm in a motor vehicle. Brent failed a second drug test while out on bond on an intoxicated manslaughter charge.
Since the Super Bowl was played in New Orleans, there have been 29 known arrests of NFL players.
We all know about the incident involving New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan after he was arrested in late May for driving under the influence and without a license. There is still about a month before NFL training camps start and it is sad, but also true that you will see more of these incidents arise from players in the NFL. While Lefeged and Brent were mainly role performers, Hernandez is a totally different issue.
The criticism in blaming the New England Patriots organization is ridicules. Hernandez came into the league as a talented player with off the field issues and bad temper, but teams are paying for production. This is a bottom line league, like it or not. Hernandez was a top-flight player playing a feature position at tight end. The smartest football mind over the past dozen or so seasons in the NFL is Bill Belichick.
Even the smart ones can make a mistake when it comes to overlooking character for production. Belichick changed what we have and will see in the future by having two very gifted tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, on the field at the same forcing opposing defenses to match up against these two tight ends. Just look at the results. Despite injuries in his three seasons in the league, Hernandez caught 175 passes for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns. Gronkowski also has fought off injuries and caught 187 passes for 2,663 yards and 38 touchdowns in three seasons.
Now Hernandez may end up with a life sentence and New England is hoping that Gronkowski can come back from forearm and back surgeries. How strange the football world has turned because these events may just have opened the door for newly signed Tim Tebow to learn a new position and switch from quarterback to tight end.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is will go down as one of the best ever, but he is a lot better player with Hernandez and Gronkowski in the lineup.
With a healthy Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson it would seem that the New Orleans Saints now have the best tight end tandem in the NFL and you will see the tight ends featured more this season. While it is a tragic and very disturbing story involving Hernandez and while nothing else of this magnitude will surface over the next few weeks, you will hear about other incidents involving players and this is why coaches, front office personnel and owners all cringe during the offseason.