In a move that can only be described as shocking, the New England Patriots have announced the release of Pro Bowl tight end Aaron Hernandez.
In the last week, we’ve been pulled back and forth by reports of the investigation of the murder of 27 year old Odin Lloyd. At first, we heard that Hernandez was not a suspect – that perhaps he was just associated with the victim. But as the week dragged on, it became more and more apparent that Hernandez was directly involved with the crime.
Following reports of a pending arrest for obstruction of justice, it became clear that there was no “easy way out” for Hernandez. We could no longer hope that he was just caught up in a “wrong place, wrong time” situation. While we still don’t know exactly what Hernandez’ role was in Lloyd’s murder last week, we can confidently say that he took an active part in covering it up.
Hernandez had become a black mark on the New England Patriots’ organization. Within a few hours, it became impossible to separate the “New England Patriots” name from “Aaron Hernandez murder investigation.” It was easily the most shocking development in my eight years covering the Patriots.
It was insane to think that a player whom we all admired on the field, a player who seemingly had remained a clean and low profile off the field could be caught up in something so tragic. This is a player who Patriots owner Robert Kraft called a “first-class guy” less than a year ago after the team signed Hernandez to a long-term extension.
The events that have occurred the last week have been surreal - and the clouds gathering over the franchise have been disheartening, to say the least. From a football standpoint, we will have plenty of time to analyze where the Patriots will be at in 2013. They’ve lost a Pro Bowl player. And yes, there are some serious concerns about Tom Brady’s corps of pass catchers.
However, I truly believe that the Patriots made the correct move this morning when they decided to sever ties with Hernandez. I think the team’s official statement portrayed the move perfectly – this was “simply the right thing to do.”
While Aaron Hernandez will still get the benefit of the doubt in court and is of course innocent until proven guilty, the New England Patriots do not owe him that right. We have seen and heard enough over the last week to know that Hernandez was involved to some degree in the execution of a 27-year-old man - regardless of whether or not he was the one who actually pulled the trigger.
A franchise notoriously criticized for being “cold” and “inhuman” in their decision making, the Patriots have cast aside all on-field considerations with the release of Hernandez. They made the human decision, not the football one, and that is awesome.