Were the Patriots ‘Duped’ by Hernandez?

Owner of the New England Patriots NFL franchise Robert Kraft has finally spoken out about former player Aaron Hernandez, who was released by the Patriots after he was arrested on charges of murder in the death of Odin Lloyd. Mr. Kraft said this, “If [the charges are] true, then I’ve been duped and our whole organization has been duped.” Mr. Kraft suggests that Mr. Hernandez engaged in willful deception of the organization, hiding his violence and other personal issues while also performing well on the field. Is Mr. Kraft right? Was the organization duped? Let’s consider both sides.

In favor of “yes, they were duped” is the nature of crime, as prosecuters describe it. Mr. Hernandez is alleged to have orchestrated a murder in cold-blooded fashion. He didn’t like who Mr. Lloyd had talked to at a club, so Mr. Hernandez and associates drove Mr. Lloyd to an industrial area, shot him five times, and left his body. This doesn’t sound like murder committed in the heat of the moment or resulting from a fight that got out of hand. Mr. Hernandez is also being investigated in a drive-by shooting from 2012. If he is indeed guilty of these charges, then Mr. Hernandez was able to appear a good teammate and player for the Patriots while living the life of a violent criminal in his spare time. “Duped” sounds about right.

In favor of “no duping about it” is the argument advanced by Boston Herald columnist Ron Borges: “[…] frankly, they should have known something.” Mr. Borges goes on to relate the shady characters that Mr. Hernandez was known to associate with, “alleged thugs and convicted dope peddlers from his hometown.” The Patriots have a serious financial stake in the behavior of their players both on and off the field. Not knowing how Mr. Hernandez was spending his time suggests that the organization was negligent in how it managed its players. Given that Mr. Hernandez was not a model citizen and that his close associates were indeed convicted criminals, the Patriots weren’t duped as much as willfully ignorant.

But what is reasonable to expect from the Patriots organization? Mr. Hernandez did have a history of bar fights and other physical altercations. This suggests that the Patriots might have reasonably taken steps to keep Mr. Hernandez from bars, to keep him from drinking alcohol, or to keep him surrounded by trustworthy others when he did go out. They would have done this because of a fear that a bar altercation could result in an accidental death. Mr. Hernandez might have been expected to use his physical prowess to hurt someone else and inadvertently cause that person’s death. But bar fights do not suggest that the person is more likely to orchestrate a mafia-style murder. Indeed, they suggest an impulsivity that many would argue is exactly opposite the nature needed to plan a murder.

Mr. Hernandez also had a history of marijuana use, hardly uncommon among college students. Here, the Patriots might have reasonably thought that Mr. Hernandez would use marijuana or other drugs while on the team. In response to this, the team might have instituted a tighter drug testing policy for Mr. Hernandez, written into his contract. This history of drug use, however, does nothing to suggest that Mr. Hernandez would be involved in a murder. Indeed, perhaps if Mr. Hernandez had been encouraged to use marijuana, he would not have cared who Mr. Lloyd interacted with.

Had the Patriots enacted the policies above, would Mr. Hernandez have been less likely to be charged with this murder? Maybe, maybe not. After all, Mr. Hernandez was out with new teammate Tim Tebow (by all accounts, a completely standup guy) when he was involved in an altercation in a bar. If Mr. Tebow failed to help Mr. Hernandez act appropriately, then the Patriots would clearly need a much stricter policy to handle Mr. Hernandez. But blaming the Patriots in any way for cold-blooded murder is ridiculous. Murder is very rare in the United States, and this kind of calculated murder is even rarer. The Patriots may not have been duped by Mr. Hernandez, but blaming them seems like “Monday morning quarterbacking,” exactly the type of behavior that sports writers loathe.

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