The Stupid, Stupid Implications Of Aaron Hernandez's “Ominous” Past

There's a troubling little narrative brewing in the matter of Aaron Hernandez. Even if the writers promoting it won't put it in so many words, it runs like this: Because Hernandez got into trouble in college, the Patriots should have seen this murder stuff coming.

No, really. See here. And here. And here and here and here. There are references to "the marijuana use, the short fuse, the shadowy friends" and a scouting report that described him as "moods unpredictable, not stable" and an expectation of scrutiny for "Hernandez's complicated past." Recall that Hernandez admitted to smoking marijuana in college, and combined with some nebulous "gang concerns," this is apparently a sign that the Patriots ought to have known what they were getting.

None of this has anything to do with Hernandez being the focus of a murder investigation; that should probably go without saying. And yet it can't, because the tattooed, "thug life" Hernandez is the subject of two separate Boston columns saying the Patriot Way has gone astray. For one, this is lazy—the worst kind of hindsight analysis. But the only counter you need to completely destroy the argument is the one made by Justin Peters in Slate today: the Patriots-should-have-known narrative implies that the entire team is just waiting to go on killing sprees.

Hernandez’s alleged pre-draft character issues have no bearing on this current murder investigation. You can’t legitimately look back at them and say, “Yep, we should have known.” Every single NFL roster is stacked with players who’ve used drugs in the past, or have short tempers or “shadowy friends.” And you know what? Every single neighborhood in America is filled with people with these exact same characteristics. That doesn’t make all of these people murderers-in-waiting.

It is dishonest and irrelevant to claim that these are “ominous” signs. Or, at least, they’re no more ominous than the character flaws exhibited by other Patriots players: like Rob Gronkowski, who appears to really, really, really enjoy drinking to excess; Tom Brady, who started dating Gisele Bundchen while Bridget Moynahan was pregnant with his child; Vince Wilfork, who allegedly received $50,000 in under-the-table benefits from disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro while enrolled at the University of Miami; Mark Harrison, who allegedly trashed a hotel room while attending the NFL Scouting Combine (“The mess included urine and feces left throughout the bathroom, toothpaste on the mirror and garbage left throughout the room”); Brandon Spikes, who attempted to gouge an opponent’s eyes while playing at Florida, and whose brother is serving a life sentence for murder; and Sebastian Vollmer, who is from Germany.

It is worth noting one point that wasn't made in any of the columns all but accusing the Patriots of knowingly drafting a potential murderer: Hernandez received a perfect score on a pre-draft psychological test. Past is prologue only when you've got 800 words to file, I guess.

[Slate]