Aaron Hernandez becomes new chapter in old story

Having worked hard to make it big, Aaron Hernandez had it made. He found a home with the organization considered the NFL’s best, and the persnickety New England Patriots liked him so much that, on Aug. 27, 2012, they handed him a new $40 million contract.

Having made it big, Hernandez should have been set for life. On June 26, 2013, he was arrested for the crime of taking the life of Odin Lloyd, whose bullet-torn body was found within a mile of Hernandez’s house, which is valued at $1.7 million. Not two hours after his arrest, the Patriots cut Hernandez.

The knee-jerk response is to shake our heads and ask, “How does this happen?” The chilling reality is that it’s a tale as old as time. Guy works hard to make it big. Guy makes it big. Guy gets pulled down by his past. That’s not just the story of Aaron Hernandez, tight end from Florida. That’s also the plot of “The Great Gatsby,” published 88 years ago.

Hernandez might not have committed murder — in these United States, the presumption of innocence applies — but he put himself in a position where all he gained could be lost. How do you do that? How do you get so angry over some perceived slight that a man who’s dating your fiancee’s sister’s winds up dead? How do you not just walk away and placate yourself by counting your money?

How? Because we’re all human, and humans are forever doing stupid things. Because many of us in these United States have guns, and being stupid with a gun is the quickest way to ruin two (or more) lives. Because, as was noted in a book published many centuries before “Gatsby,” pride goeth before a fall.

Ten months ago, Hernandez took $50,000 of the money he was being paid to play ball and gave it to the Myra Kraft Foundation, a charity named after the late wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Last week, Kraft’s team literally told Hernandez to get lost. In the swirling wake of the investigation into Lloyd’s murder, news helicopters followed Hernandez’s SUV as he drove to the Patriots’ complex. He was asked to leave.

On Thursday, the Patriots made their revulsion formal. Without stopping to worry about salary-cap considerations, they rendered Hernandez an ex-Patriot. The Baltimore Ravens didn’t dump Ray Lewis when he was accused of murder. The Falcons didn’t cut Michael Vick — they did distance themselves — when he was indicted on dogfighting charges. But the Pats didn’t wait, and in their statement they made little mention of the player they once embraced:

“A young man was murdered last week, and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law-enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do.”

Got that? The team found guilty of spying on opponents; the team coached by the churlish Bill Belichick; the team that famously found places for Randy Moss and Corey Dillon, gifted players with checkered pasts … that team didn’t even wait for the arraignment to rid itself of Hernandez. That’s among the fastest falls not just in the history of sports but in the history of the world.

Perhaps the Patriots suspected what was coming. According to prosecutor William McCauley, Lloyd’s death was no accident, no crime of blind rage. McCauley said Hernandez “orchestrated the execution,” and even in our desensitized society that’s chilling.

Hernandez, who made a fortune playing a kids’ game, stands accused of killing another human being in the coldest of blood. Sports Illustrated reported last week that some NFL teams passed on drafting Hernandez because they were concerned about possible gang ties in his hometown of Bristol, Conn., but that was three years and $40 million ago. Couldn’t he have outrun any such ties by now?

You would think so, but you would be ignoring a whole chunk of history if you did. Hernandez, who seemed set for life, could face life without parole if convicted of first-degree murder. And we cite the final line of “The Great Gatsby,” as true in this century as the last:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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