Headline NFL Players Sports Law

Another Brick In (Now Out Of) The Wall

The following Op-Ed article is a guest contribution from Jason A. Davis, Esq. All rights reserved. Follow him on Twitter @JasonDavisEsq1.

New England Patriots former tight end Aaron Hernandez (left) stands with his attorney Michael Fee as he is arraigned in Attleboro District Court. Hernandez is charged with first degree murder in the death of Odin Lloyd. Mandatory Credit: The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Everyone wants to distance themselves from New England Patriots former tight end Aaron Hernandez. Photo Credit: The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been said about the whirlwind events surrounding Aaron Hernandez in the recent months. The speculation led to an arrest, disclosure of copious amount of damming evidence, and the immediate distancing and pronouncement of guilty beyond any doubt in the court of public opinion. However, under the eyes of the law, Mr. Hernandez is still innocent until proven guilty. Regardless of this fact, the power players in the sports business world have entered their verdict and wasted no time in passing judgment and distancing themselves from their former connection with the defendant. I find it intriguing to watch the disinheritance of Mr. Hernandez.

I’ve always held institutions of higher education in high regard and trusted the investments they placed in their students. These institutions instinctively imbed a sense of connection and inclusion into their students, and in return the students will support and proudly adorn themselves with their Alma Mater’s colors and insignia for years to come. The school benefits from such allegiance and will gladly supply you with an array of merchandise to which you can further their brand and advertising on your person any time you enter their team store, on-line, and other locations.

Recent actions (or shall I say reactions) regarding Mr. Hernandez have made me stop and ponder. At what point is it proper to distance yourself from a former employee/student? What reasons are they doing so?

Granted, Mr. Hernandez is charged with shocking and egregious crimes. The evidence gathered and published thus far paints an unnerving picture of what may have occurred. On the other hand, Mr. Hernandez is still innocent until proven guilty. The court of public opinion and political posturing has apparently met a swift verdict and judgment has been passed (with no appeal contemplated). The fact is, he has not been convicted of any crime yet.  What if he truly is innocent? Why then the immediate distancing?

The first public display of disinheritance came in late July. The University of Florida apparently published a statement that read:

“We didn’t feel it was appropriate to celebrate Aaron Hernandez. We put together an immediate plan after the initial news broke to remove his likeness and name in various private and public areas in the facility, such as the South Endzone team area, locker room, football offices, Heavener Complex Kornblau Lobby and the brick display entrance to the football facility.

The University of Florida removed a brick embedded on their campus noting Mr. Hernandez’s All American season.  An accomplishment to be noted indeed.  This immediate and permanent removal of an award rightfully earned by a talented athlete appears to be a knee jerk reaction based on public relations and image control rather than a punishment for a convicted student. Where is the committed Alma Mater standing by its student with a stance of “we stand by our students as innocent until proven guilty.” It instead appears that the school is giving a public announcement of “we stand by our students, so long as they make us look good.” Is this the modern university’s new policy on all students who go awry? Do law graduates who become disbarred have their names blotted out from the law review articles, awards and other recognition gathered while at and for the benefit of their school? Do other grads who fall short professionally have the same swift, harsh and permanent reactions?  How many students have been so publicly condemned and disgraced (pre-conviction)?  What truly is the objective – high moral standards, or a squeaky clean and marketable school image?

Another example is that the Pro Football Hall of Fame removed an image of the former New England Patriot celebrating a touchdown.  This picture was removed after complaints were made by several visitors. Why not keep it there with the recognition that even those so adored in the great hall, are still human.  Why not use it as a deterrent? Is removing all memory of a person simply because they are charged with a crime a healthy reaction?

Finally, the New England Patriots have taken action to distance themselves from the now former Patriot (an expatriate so to speak). Mr. Kraft has used the term of being “duped,” by Mr. Hernandez. This claim really makes me wonder.  It was a known fact that there were concerns regarding Hernandez and his “liabilities” as early as draft time. Where was the “duped” language when Hernandez and Gronkowski led the league in TE stats, when the Pats were winning, and when Hernandez jerseys where flying off the shelf?  Is this a “your only good if you make me look good,” mentality?  This attitude implies: “make me look bad, and your fired!”, regardless of guilt or innocence.

I admire Mr. Kraft. He is a smart man, a savvy businessman and an owner of a team that was revived by his leadership. I don’t know Mr. Kraft personally, but my assumption is that it takes a lot to dupe the man. But, was he also duped by Mr. Bill Belichick and the spy games fiasco? How can I reconcile all these factors?

Mr. Kraft reacted decisively by releasing Mr. Hernandez hours after the charge was filed. The Patriots took the additional step of offering a two-day opportunity for fans to exchange Mr. Hernandez’ #81 jersey for another player – free of charge. This resulted in an estimated six figure loss (reportedly around $250,000.00). The Patriots claimed that they planed to shred the jerseys by grinding them up and donating the material for recycling purposes. I’m all for recycling, but this seems to be an effort to salvage any positive they can from the situation.

I commend Mr. Kraft for his decisive leadership, and attempt to clean up the mess and shadow cast by Mr. Hernandez, who was so closely involved in a situation as to be justifiably arrested and charged with first degree murder. However, these immediate responses coupled with the obvious and very public attempts to spin the situation as best as possible make me wonder. Are today’s universities and pro teams truly more concerned about the team’s image than the quality and character of their players? How much vetting goes into these players before a multi-million dollar contract is inked? Is “football prowess” the only factor considered?  What about the ability to professionally represent a team, on and off the field? Did the Patriots know more than we knew, and have deeper concerns about Mr. Hernandez, and just assumed the risk, hoping it would not materialize? Now that such a disastrous situation has fallen on them, is the immediate and drastic reaction based more on remorse of an investment gone bad or a player’s personal moral failure? If the Patriots were more concerned about the character and quality of their players, why not showcase and advertise their current talent? If I was an advisor of Mr. Kraft, I would suggest a continued public display be made of the character of the men remaining on the team. I’d especially celebrate the Tight Ends of Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells to show that this is what a Patriot tight end should be and is!

My opinions/concerns above about pro and college teams beg to be calmed. I’m afraid that universities have turned the student athlete into a commodity. When the student athlete excels and merchandise is selling, the university happily commemorates and makes a profit off of their student athletes. It’s as if, they are broadcasting the message that, all in all it was just a brick in the wall. So much for the education, all in all it was all just bricks in (and now out of) the wall.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

One reply on “Another Brick In (Now Out Of) The Wall”

Thank you for agreeing with me,in saying Mr.Kraft seems to be a hypocrite. Hernandez may have broken the law,but lost his job. Belichech broke the NFL rules,cost you money/draft picks/reputation,but kept his job. So how come you can be played by two different ppl and treat them differently?

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