The Patriots wrap up the preseason Thursday night by hosting the Giants, and second-round bust Ras-I Dowling was finally released Wednesday, but those stories were overshadowed by the Aaron Hernandez saga after Rolling Stone magazine released a supposed bombshell of an expose Wednesday titled, “Gangster in the Huddle.”
The piece, written by Paul Solotaroff with Herald columnist Ron Borges, does a thorough job of recounting Hernandez’s sordid past, and provides several interesting revelations about Hernandez, Bill Belichick, and some of the events surrounding Odin Lloyd’s murder. The piece doesn’t hold back — not with the cover illustration of a blood-splattered Hernandez, or with the finger-pointing at Robert Kraft and Belichick for turning a blind eye toward Hernandez’s behavior.
But the story also is filled with sensationalism, hearsay, convenient fact-bending, and even one blatant falsity. The authors go to great lengths to portray Hernandez’s friends and family as thugs and losers, then expect the reader to fully believe these same unnamed sources who provide many of the lurid details.
The revelation that Hernandez was a heavy PCP user is interesting and believable; his alleged accomplice, Carlos Ortiz, did tell his probation officer in May that he used PCP and several other drugs on a daily basis.
Hernandez could easily get away with a drug habit. Per NFL rules, players are tested for street drugs (cocaine, marijuana, total morphine and codeine, opioids, hydrocodone, oxycodone, PCP, MDMA) just once a year, between April 20 and Aug. 9. However, it’s hard to imagine Hernandez being a heavy PCP user during the season — you’d think his teammates and coaching staff would notice something.
It’s also believable, given what we know now, that Hernandez carried a gun at all times, as the story reported.
Rolling Stone also uncovered that Hernandez actually flew to the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February to seek guidance from Belichick, telling his coach he felt his life was in danger from the gangsters he had befriended. The story says that Belichick recommended Hernandez rent an apartment, now known as the “flophouse,” to lie low for a while. If true, that is a real mind-blower.
The story also says Hernandez blew off Tom Brady a couple of times in California, which is a sin on this team.
But the sensationalism and fact-bending hurt the story’s credibility.
The story oversells the claim that Hernandez “was one misstep from being cut.” The Patriots had just given him a $40 million contract extension the previous August, and within six months they were so fed up with him that they would cut him? Deep in the story, we read that if Hernandez were involved in any more distractions, Belichick apparently said he would trade or cut him after the 2013 season.
What kind of threat is that? Sounds like something Belichick would say as a motivational tactic more than anything else. He’d still have plenty of time to change his mind.
Cutting or trading Hernandez before the 2014 season would have still cost the Patriots $7.5 million in cap money in 2014, and they still would have been on the hook for more than $4.3 million, including a $3.25 million signing bonus payment he would have received next March.
That is one claim that is really hard to believe.
The story was flat-out wrong in saying “he skipped out on team training drills, going to California to rehab an aching shoulder and take a much-needed break from New England.”
NFL players are not allowed under the collective bargaining agreement to work out with their teams until the middle of April, and many scatter across the country for two months after the Super Bowl.
Hernandez was in California during this time, and returned to New England for the offseason program, which lasts from April to June. He participated in enough workouts to earn an $82,000 bonus as spelled out in his contract, and the NFL Players Association has now filed a grievance on his behalf to coerce the Patriots to pay the bonus, which they are currently withholding.
We’re supposed to believe that Hernandez smoked “three or four blunts” in the car on the ride home from games, which is an insane amount of marijuana for any one person to smoke in that short of a ride, from Foxborough to North Attleborough. And the piece says Hernandez “cemented his don’t-touch rep” by being named in a shooting in Gainesville, Fla.; but that shooting happened in 2007, not right before the 2010 draft, as the story intimates.
And the claim that none of this would have happened had the Patriots not replaced Frank Mendes, their former security chief, is laughable. The theory put forth in the story was that Mendes, a former state trooper, had a wide network of police friends across the state who would inform Belichick when players were up to things they shouldn’t be doing.
But his replacement, “a tech-smart Brit named Mark Briggs,” was apparently too arrogant to build friendships with local police enforcement or accept phone calls with random tips.
It’s hard to believe that in 10 years on the job, Briggs hasn’t developed any relationships with local police.
The piece calls the notion that Kraft was “duped” by Hernandez “arrant nonsense.” I believe this to be half-true.
I actually believe that Kraft feels duped. He is a busy man running the Kraft Group, and maybe spends only 15-20 percent of his daily energy on the Patriots.
But for Belichick and the coaching and security staffs, it’s a different story. They had to know Hernandez was a bad seed.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin