Reports are flying around the media regarding the arrest of Aaron Hernandez and the Patriots' subsequent release of their former fourth-round pick. Notably, stories are coming out about the league's reaction to it, and the not-so-subtle message they sent during the rookie symposium in Cleveland, and how they had every TV available there on NFL Network, that was broadcasting Hernandez's arraignment.
A strong enough message, but seemingly as useless as stopping a tidal wave with Seran Wrap. All the league can do is control the damage, and that's exactly what it, and the Patriots, are now trying to do.
In conjunction with the coverage of Hernandez's arraignment are stories based around how Hernandez "didn't fit with the culture" of the Patriots. We read the stories about Hernandez wigging out on former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, but according to Belichick, that wasn't an issue. Following Hernandez's extension last year, Belichick said:
"Any contract that we agree to is one that we're in support of," he said Monday when asked about the contract. "If we agree to a contract on a player, then we're in support of that player, the length of the contract, the amount that we're paying him, and all the other things that go with the contract. We wouldn't do it if we weren't in support of it, as an organization, me personally, all of the above. Again, we wouldn't have done it if we weren't happy with it. Glad it worked out."
It's acceptable to suggest his antisocial behavior and questionable emotional maturity was the reason behind an otherwise talented player falling to the fourth round of the draft. It's not acceptable, then, for Boston Globe reporter Ben Volin to suggest Hernandez really didn't fit in with the Patriots' culture.
While I understand there's no way to write this that won't do little more than evoke more anti-Patriots sentiment, but every team is guilty of this to a certain extent.
The legal hot water Hernandez is in cannot be blamed on, or even associated with, Patriots owner Bob Kraft or head coach/general manager Bill Belichick. Clearly, though, they felt his production was worth the risk. The legal predicaments a few Steelers players have found themselves in over the last few years cannot be blamed on Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert or Mike Tomlin.
Who's to say they won't find themselves releasing a player tomorrow for some kind of similar circumstance?
And they accept that risk. The Patriots accepted it with Hernandez, the Steelers accepted it with Santonio Holmes. Let's stop shoveling the character manure when it's obvious the intentions of teams are to win games. A "questionable character" guy means "lower draft pick and smaller rookie contract" more often than it means "we don't want him representing our organization."
The Patriots are the latest, but perhaps most apropos, example of this. Sure, they're washing their hands quickly, releasing him hits their cap pretty significantly over the next two years, but it gives them the ability to show they don't tolerate such things - or attempting to gloss over the fact anti-team stories are coming out about Hernandez now that occurred before they signed him to a $37.5 million contract extension in 2012.
Why? Because he's a good football player. They knew the character concerns, and they got good production out of him on a cheap contract over the last three years. The Patriots were very much aware of the red flags, they chose to ignore them.
That isn't suggesting the Patriots are a Thug Life organization. It's just simply one of their ticking timebombs finally went off. With all due respect to Patriots fans, any one of them would be likely to respond to a question about Hernandez's character with something along the lines of "Brady keeps them in line, that's the Patriots way, Belichick doesn't take on bad seeds, the locker room is strong, blah blah blah" and other pro-Patriots rhetoric.
The fact is, we have no idea, and the ones who do don't care, as long as he's producing. That goes for the Patriots, the Steelers, the Chiefs, Falcons, Jaguars and every other team in the NFL.
Jerramy Stevens has a rap sheet longer than many career criminals, and Seattle's Mike Holmgren scooped him up in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
Considering it was likely the first day in the history of the NFL when two of its players were charged with murder (let's not forget Browns undrafted free agent Ausar Walcott who was charged with attempted murder Wednesday), the only thing they can do is highlight examples of what not to do to its rookie class, and act as if both decisions being made can be swayed by those character concerns, and teach, retrospectively, its players what not to do based on examples of fallen stars.
As soon as they start telling stories of why this player wasn't drafted or given an extension because they were worried about his character, I'll believe teams value character as something more than a way to justify paying them less.