Today’s NFL has been completely taken over by $100 million dollar contracts, free agents switching teams every year and corporate sponsorships that take the naming rights to every new stadium that gets built. Long gone are the days of dynasties, players spending their entire career with one team and stadium names that actually mean something to their area. (Heinz Field is an exception.)
Most NFL teams don’t built themselves up through the draft anymore. It sends a nice infusion of talent to the teams who draft them but how many of these players, besides a small few, actually re-sign with the team that drafts them?
Then there is the matter of teams taking chances on very talented young college players; namely the risk of taking a player who could be a Hall of Famer, but is very troubled off the field. The latest in the long tale of these types of players is Aaron Hernandez.
Everyone saw the risk of taking this young guy out of the University of Florida and it could be one of the reasons he fell to the fourth round of the 2010 draft. This is a guy who had to write a letter to the Patriots about the allegations of his marijuana use and how he had already debunked them.
While at Florida, Hernandez was very productive on the field with 111 receptions for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, and continued to his first three NFL seasons, with 175 receptions for 1,956 yards and 18 TDs. The problem is the troubles off the field, possible connections to gangs and concerns at every turn.
There are documented cases about Hernandez getting into a bar fight in college while former teammate Tim Tebow was present and tried to break it up. The current investigation has tried to link him to previous murders that have never been solved.
On the field, Hernandez is a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end who is dangerous anywhere on the field, can catch TDs at a remarkable rate and never seemed to be a concern. Off the field, Hernandez is a very troubled young guy with all the money in the world and a ton of arrogance to think he would never get busted.
This certainly isn’t the first player fans of NFL teams have heard about when it comes to getting in trouble. Teams like the Bengals have long took on players who may have fallen in the draft due to off-field concerns. The Raiders have long been seen as a team that convicts can go to and “fit in” because of the view of their fan base.
As a matter of fact, there are very few teams in today’s NFL that won’t draft a player or sign a player who has had off-field issues. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers, who brought in Plaxico Burress last season and re-signed him again for this upcoming season.
You also have to take a look at where some of these young men have come from. A lot of NFL players come from low-income to medium-income families and all of a sudden, they are millionaires and want to party. Ben Roethlisberger came from a good home and seemingly good upbringing and he’s been brought up on charges a couple of times.
Granted, he has beaten these charges, but it shows that these young players, given their newfound wealth, can and will make a bunch of mistakes. You can only hope they grow out of the mistakes. Some do and some never will which is the apparent sad case for Hernandez and he could be facing a very long jail sentence with hardened criminals. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe he will feel right at home?
There is a very big lesson to be learned from all of this and I think the fans of the NFL or any major sport should always keep this in perspective, even though we know what young players do or have done through their high school and college careers. Even though we root for them each and every week and feel a special connection to them. This goes for the owners and coaches of these players who sign their paychecks or were responsible for drafting them, too.
Please keep this in mind. It is virtually impossible to know everything about any one player, especially when it comes to things off the field and it is very easy for them to cover their issues even if they eventually grow out of them. Please bear in mind, these are human beings, they make mistakes, they have problems and yes they have a ton of money and can buy the best lawyers to help them.
Just take a look at Aaron Michael Hernandez and realize that you just do not know. Hopefully the rewards are worth the risk.