What happened to the "Patriot Way?" What happened to the importance of character and hard-nosed football? What happened to the mentality of "do your job"? Those old Patriots standards are being challenged in New England.
The questions and accusations continue, even after swift action was taken by the organization to cut Tight End Aaron Hernandez within hours after being arrested in connection with the murder of Semi-Pro Football player Odin Lloyd.
Was the quick action that the Patriots took a mark of "Setting the example" for malcontents or was it just damage control for something bigger?
Hernandez even wrote the New England Patriots a letter asking them to take a chance on the troubled tight end telling them to "trust him" when it came to his alleged illegal substance abuse of his past.
This past week, Robert Kraft stated to a select group of Boston reporters that if the charges against Aaron Hernandez were true, then he felt that the Patriots organization was "duped" by former Florida Gator.
Mr. Kraft, felt duped by Hernandez? This does not make a lot of sense seeing that he knew what kind of character that the team was investing in when he was awarded with an extension worth over $40 million dollars. It seems that was done, knowing this individual wasn't as clean-cut as one would have hoped.
Key phrases describing Hernandez have come out of Patriots camp recently. Terms like "loner" and descriptions that he did not "fit into the organization" or that he lashed out at teammates. It was clear Hernandez never bonded with the team.
Kraft might have been tricked into thinking that Hernandez was reformed as a person but -- like many other NFL clubs – his organization turned a blind eye on the character issues when it came to putting talent on the field. Big plays by superstar athletes are part of the game that fans around the world love watching week after week.
Kraft probably thought his decision to offer Hernandez a huge extension last season and less than a year later cut him because he's seen as a bad seed, where choices he had to make. His hand was forced by circumstances beyond his control.
Did the quick release cover the mistake of taking too big a risk on a ‘questionable' character? Or was it simply done to avoid answering the PR nightmare of questions about the maligned ex-tight end?
|Randy Moss was a model citizen in New England after the Raiders opted to get rid of him for a poor attitude.|
The Patriots have had the ability to take in players that were considered risks in the past -- names like Randy Moss, Corey Dillon and Rodney Harrison -- and turn them into card-carrying members of the "Patriot Way". But, even though those signings were risky, they were gambles that paid off.
Every team in the NFL has players that are drawn to a lifestyle that is conducive to flaunting the law and exposes the individuals to paternally compromising legal situations. They are time bombs waiting to happen. The teams take these players, do a great job of promoting these individuals because they are helping the team perform but each of them are one incident from exploding into a nightmare scenario like the Hernandez situation.
Star athletes, many who hail from an underprivileged background, find a way to succeed through athletics. The system rewards those who can help a team win. From scholarships and multiple offers during their college recruiting days, to being Drafted by an NFL Franchise, these are ways players like Aaron Hernandez find a way to earn multi-million dollar paychecks just to play football. Genetics gave them their athleticism, but who's teaching them how to walk down the right path of life?
Teams will tell you that they have programs in place to combat these individuals from going down the wrong path when they join the ranks of the NFL. They will also tell you that they are aware of and work closely with these young players to groom them to become better role models. But let's face the facts, if your thug players are hanging with thug friends and living a thug lifestyle (sprinkle $40 million dollars in there) then bad things will eventually happen.
Since the Superbowl this past winter, there have been 29 arrests in the NFL ranging from manslaughter, drugs, spousal abuse and most recently murder. The NFL will put a spin on it and say that it is common and they are working on it but it is a violent theme behind the protected "shield" of the NFL.
Teams look the other way when their players are more violent and aggressive because the product on the field puts people in the seats and sells tickets. When it finally blows up in their faces and their stars go to jail or are in courts they are surprised and bring in the harshest penalties to save face.
The New England Patriots are not an organization that actively seeks out athletes with character issues just ‘because.' Like any team in the NFL, they're willing to lower their barrier to entry a little to allow characters into the locker room if the general consensus is that they'll be able to reap the rewards without incident. Such was the case with Aaron Hernandez, a player many vouched for, but who let everyone down with his off-field antics.
The "holier than thou" reputation in New England has taken a hit. Claiming to be duped by a shady character from the University of Florida is ridiculous. The Patriots, and other NFL organizations, know exactly what they are getting into taking chances on these players.
Now it is time to admit to what the reality is.
Sometimes the end doesn't justify the means. Sometimes a turd, even a polished one, is still a turd.
Shane Leketa is a lifelong Patriots fan who can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MyPatspace and also on twitter @MyPatsSpace
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