Through the years, when real-world issues have visited the Sports Department, there have been some bad stories. Some of them strained the limits of believability. Others were simply sad.
Harry Agganis and Reggie Lewis died while they were in their 20s. Len Bias killed himself via cocaine intoxication before he played a game for the Celtics. The Patriots lost a Super Bowl, then revealed an in-house drug scandal. Tony Conigliaro had his career cut short by a beanball, then suffered a stroke and died at the age of 45. Rocky Marciano died in a plane crash. Ted Williams’s head was separated from his body and cryogenically frozen in the hours after his death.
More than a few of our professional athletes have landed on the police blotter. Players who were cheered at Fenway, Foxboro, and the Garden turned out to be gun-toters, wife beaters, drunks, drug abusers, thieves, and deadbeat dads.
But there has never been anything like this.
Wearing handcuffs and leg irons, 23-year-old Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged Wednesday with the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd of Dorchester. Hernandez demonstrated no emotion as the detailed charges of a premeditated execution were read in Attleboro District Court.
Officially speaking, Hernandez was already a “former” Patriot by the time he was arraigned. Less than two hours after Hernandez was arrested and pulled from his home in the morning, the Patriots issued a statement expressing sympathy for Lloyd’s family and concluding that the release of their tight end was “simply the right thing to do.’’
Please. No need piling on the franchise here. Hernandez’s associates and alleged actions are not the Patriots’ fault. But at a time when “Patriot Way” has become a sickening parody of its own mythical origins, New England’s front office needs to stop with the self-congratulation.
The statement announcing the release of Hernandez was not assembled hastily. It was nuanced and thoughtful. It’s fairly obvious the organization knew what was coming down and wanted to distance itself from the man who was about to be charged with murder.
There was no need to remind us it was “simply the right thing to do.’’ It was the only thing to do.
Seriously. What was “the right thing to do” after Hernandez’s alleged involvement in a February episode in Miami that ended with gunfire and a man losing his eyeball?
The Hernandez saga brings up questions about the collective judgment of a conservative franchise that typically does exhaustive research before making the smallest decisions. How did the Patriots arrive at the conclusion that Hernandez was worthy of a $40 million contract extension, which included a $12.5 million signing bonus? Where were the background checks and red flags? What about Belichick’s deep roots with Hernandez’s college coach at Florida, Urban Meyer?
This is no time to be worrying about your fantasy football teams or Tom Brady’s receiving corps for 2013. It’s not about the competitive balance in the AFC or Belichick’s beloved two-tight-end offense.
This is about the worst story ever. It’s about what you say to your 10-year-old son if you got him a “Hernandez 81” jersey last Christmas.
New England sports Wednesday was supposed to be about watching the seventh game of the greatest Stanley Cup Final of all time. It should have been about Doc Rivers holding his introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers. It was the day that the still-anonymous first-place Red Sox played a 4 o’clock game with the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park. And won. Again.
But we had time for none of that. We were dealing with history — reacting to the worst story that ever crept onto these sports pages.Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.