It wasn’t long after Aaron Hernandez was led out of his North Attleborough home in handcuffs on Wednesday morning that the Patriots tweeted the following:
“The New England #Patriots have released Aaron Hernandez.”
The post didn’t even come close to 140 characters.
New England moved swiftly to distance itself from its 2010 fourth-round draft pick, who was charged with first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd and five gun-related charges around four hours after the team’s announcement.
In an e-mailed statement, the Patriots said: “A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation.
“We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do.”
No current Patriots commented publicly about the Hernandez situation Wednesday, and those contacted were not willing to talk about it privately, either. You can’t blame them, though — not only has team brass almost certainly forbade it, there isn’t really a best way to go about it.
It was hard to find even former Patriots who said much about Hernandez.
Kyle Love, released by New England last month and claimed by Jacksonville, sent three tweets reading, “I feel some type of way about this Hernandez situation! #sad for my boy . . . Hate this happened . . . Prayers go up for both sides!”
Defensive lineman Andre Carter, who played for the Patriots in 2011, first posted that he was praying for Hernandez and then that he was praying for both sides, including Lloyd’s family.
One former Patriot said he couldn’t bring himself to watch the coverage of Hernandez’s arrest and arraignment.
NFL players being arrested is nothing new, but an active player being charged with murder is rare: Hernandez, 23, is the first in more than a decade.
The Panthers’ Rae Carruth was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in 2001, and former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with murder in 2000; charges were dropped when he testified against two companions, who were subsequently acquitted of murder charges.
Tight end Alge Crumpler, signed by the Patriots in 2010 in part to mentor then-rookie tight ends Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, tweeted before Hernandez was released that the Patriots handled distractions better than any team he had been a part of.
On Wednesday evening, Crumpler, who lives in Atlanta and does broadcasting work there, was asked about New England’s decision to cut ties with Hernandez so quickly.
“I’m saddened by the whole ordeal,” he said. “I’m not surprised one bit that the Patriots went on and made the decision to remove the distraction from the team, because that’s always been my experience when I was in the room.”
League sources have said Hernandez spent little, if any, time with his teammates away from Gillette Stadium.
Asked if he felt he was close to Hernandez, Crumpler said, “I felt like we had a great working relationship.”
He added that Hernandez did well enough that he was able to secure a long-term deal, so there were others he made a positive impression on.
Former Chiefs, Giants, Bills, and Saints linebacker Kawika Mitchell wrote on his Facebook page, “I know from experience that the company you keep will dictate the events in your life. Mistakes only take a split second and what follows can get out of control and compound fast. Not saying it’s anyone else’s fault. Just saying you have to adjust your life appropriately.”
Hernandez’s continuing association with shadowy friends and individuals from his native Bristol, Conn., has been mentioned as a potential part of the problem for Hernandez.
Though Crumpler said he didn’t have anyone he needed to cut ties with when he entered the league in 2001, “I know it’s preached that if you have a storied past, you need to cut ties . . . That’s Rookie Symposium 101.”
As it happens, the NFL is holding its annual symposium this week, with the Hernandez saga offering a real-life example of what can happen if players don’t take their responsibilities seriously.
Artrell Hawkins, who was with the Patriots in 2005-06, has become an impassioned advocate and sounding board for players.
He believes while Hernandez is an extreme case, the culture of the NFL played a role in the tight end finding trouble, from the way players are developed physically but not emotionally or socially from the time they enter college, to the gladiator mentality and sense of entitlement.
“When I was watching the indictment, I was looking at his face, and what stuck out to me is his story is a failure of our society, our industry,” Hawkins said. “What stuck out to me most is [the prosecutor saying Hernandez believed] he can’t trust anybody anymore; that’s a dangerous feeling because it’s ultimately fear . . . Players operate under fear, period.
“As a player you’re fearful of losing your contract, you’re fearful of what you say, you’re fearful of who you surround yourself with. All the fear you live with, it spills out eventually. Today was the worst-case scenario.”
Hawkins said he “absolutely” does not blame the Patriots for releasing Hernandez, but players need to understand from the outset of their careers that for all the times they’re told a team is a family and they are to do things a certain way and sacrifice for the greater good, at the end of the day, it’s a business and “the truth is no one cares about you like that.”