For several years, Aaron Hernandez was "one of us." Credit: Getty Images
“Big shocker: The Patriots are beating up on the crappy AFC East again! Kind of like Aaron Hernandez wailing away on that guy in prison, huh?”
Roughly 14 versions of this awful joke will be told next season, because, as you’ve heard by now, Aaron Hernandez isn’t doing much to improve his image while incarcerated for charges he faces from the murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez beat up a fellow inmate at the Bristol County House of Corrections on Tuesday. The inmate was rendered defenseless, evidently handcuffed, as Hernandez lit into him.
Clearly, no reasonable person would suggest that being a Patriots fan means you support a murderer. Then again, sports fans typically aren’t reasonable people. Hernandez jokes made at the expense of New England fans happen, albeit in jest, because fans of other teams know our dirty secret: 403 days after his last significant football moment, Aaron Hernandez still feels like our problem.
Carrying the burden here makes no sense. We don’t pine away for his squandered potential. Heck, we barely think about him. The mere fact that this story was broken by TMZ, a publication not exactly known as the beacon of investigative sports journalism, tells us everything we need to know about Hernandez’s place in our lives at this point.
So, Hernandez is a sideshow; THE cautionary tale of cautionary tales. That’s all a given. It’s the everlasting baggage, the guilt that percolates whenever a Jets fan makes a Hernandez joke, which is of particular interest to me. Why, after all this time, do we still care?
The obvious explanation is that humans have a conscience that extends beyond how well someone can run, jump, and catch a football. But there’s more to this. When thinking about how we view players, it’s abundantly apparent that fans are wired rather strangely. In utilitarian terms, players are simply commodities. But more importantly, in the time they represent the city we call home, they are OUR commodities. Because in our deranged minds, a player’s success is our success.
It’s just curious considering A. We don’t really know these guys and B. The goals of fans and players aren’t necessarily aligned. It’s a universal problem for sports fans everywhere. We want it to matter, to feel like we’re in this together, and for a team to take on the personality of the city plays in (the Yankees are classy; the Celtics are historically significant; the SHOWTIME Lakers are flashy). We want pride to resonate when the hype-guy frantically yells “Give a warm welcome to YOUR New England Patriots” or “YOUR Boston Red Sox” during pregame warm-ups.
Maybe that’s why we’re still embarrassed – just like Bob Kraft, we were duped. Tuesday was just another reminder.