In the world’s oceans there are diminutive, darting fish that appear picayune at first. Those fish are titled Remoras and they’re the fish that swim under sharks. Their form of symbiotic relationship, commensalism, favor the Remora as they gather leftovers from the shark’s hunting successes. In turn, the Remora picks off pesky smaller fish that would nip at the shark.
A similar exchange precipitates an athlete making it to the professional level, especially if the player involved originates from gang culture. There’s an unwritten code between the Remora and sharks, the same as gang members. You don’t turn on each other. They turn into hangers-on, people who only value the athlete as long as they’re successful.
That means when a player makes it big, he owes it to his buddies back home to help them out. Spurning them to focus on their career would mean betrayal and turning your back on the family – as most gangs see themselves. And, as the adage goes, family first.
Ask Michael Vick, who couldn’t leave Newport News, Virginia, his crime-ridden hometown, or his friends behind. He grew up in a place where avoiding drive-bys and crack dealers was knowledge as necessary to one’s elementary education as math and reading. Ultimately he ended up in jail on a dogfighting charge because he couldn’t distance himself from his old friends, bad news, and Bad Newz – his dogfighting kennel.
It appears that another athlete learned this lesson the tough way this week: New England Patriots dynamic, versatile Tight End Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez, who is 23 years old and signed a 7-year $41 million ($16 million guaranteed) pact with New England last August, has been caught up in a murder investigation near his home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. All evidence supports that Hernandez was either the killer or cognitively aware of the homicide.
With the case seemingly a straightforward one (ending with Hernandez going straight to prison), the Patriots are left wondering how their $41 million investment could have escaped the maturation of the New England locker room.
Declaring for the NFL Draft out of the University of Florida in 2010 after winning the BCS National Championship, Hernandez was red-flagged by multiple organizations and completely taken off the draft board for another team – citing his failed drug tests and his potential as an off-the-field concern later.
Hernandez, a winner of the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best Tight End annually, witnessed his draft stock plummet. The New England Patriots selected him in the fourth round anyway with pick number 113.
New England thought they could transform the out-of-line Hernandez into gold between the sidelines. That sentiment holding veridical thus far, he has assimilated into the famed “Patriot Way” that owner Robert Kraft and Head Coach Bill Belichick preside over. Up until this point Hernandez had acclimated peacefully and avoided trouble with the law. The Patriots success stories are numerous with taking troubled athletes and making them successful, like Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, and most recently, Corner Back Aqib Talib.
Hernandez’s actual guilt presents an arbitrary matter in the case. The contradiction of the Patriot Way, which entails professionalism and an absence of distractions, came from a direct inability to separate from the past. As these athletes mature, they can’t seem to distinguish the dichotomy between their careers and the fun they were still having back in high school.
Hernandez was poised to take over as the primary weapon in the Patriots’ Tight End-based offense with star Rob Gronkowski sidelined with his umpteenth injury. But it appears as if he has squandered that chance.
If a judge determines that jail time isn’t prudent, surely Roger Goodell will deal more wrath upon Hernandez than former-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue did when Ray Lewis was found innocent of his murder charge in June of 2000. Tagliabue assessed that Lewis endured enough strife and didn’t impose any disciplinary action at all. Goodell however, the famed authoritarian, will certainly impose his will upon those he deems detrimental to the league. Also known as Aaron Hernandez.
It is unfortunate that Hernandez should have been involved with this atrocity at all, but he continues to further the damage through his current actions. Smashing his phone and security system, along with his uncooperative and obdurate nature during the investigation, affects everything. Say Hernandez avoids jail time and returns to NFL turf this season (a large assumption). As a budding star, the Patriots Tight End stood not only to make the $41 million he signed for, but other corporate sponsorships waited in the end zone. Now it will be nearly impossible for a camera to be on Hernandez (if he is on the field) without a mention of his legal trouble – and that would just be in a game.
When will athletes learn that telling their buddies from back home that they can’t associate with them any longer could actually keep them in that place where they worked so hard to be?