The dog days of this summer have been scorched by controversies for many professional athletes. From criminal charges to doping scandals, such off-field issues can quickly tarnish the shine of a superstar in any sport.
The most shocking example is former New England Patriots and University of Florida star tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder in the killing of Odin Lloyd in late June. Hernandez — also being investigated in a double-homicide from 2012 — has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial in a Massachusetts prison, where he is being held without bail.
Athletes using performance-enhancing drugs and one even making a racial slur also have come under intense scrutiny this summer.
Although the effects of off-field problems are immediate for an athlete’s team or organization, the repercussions also are felt at other levels of athletics, especially the youth and high school levels, where the perception of professional athletes is a contributing factor in the young athletes’ development.
Romary Corneille is entering Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana this fall. He played football and ran track at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and he frequently has looked to athletes for motivation in his own life.
“I do expect more from athletes than other adults,” Corneille said. “There could be thousands of little kids that will look up to a certain player, and when a kid finds out that player is getting arrested, that could break their hearts.”
For instance, U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay tested positive for a banned substance, as did Jamaica’s Asafa Powell. Gay had long touted himself as a clean athlete, even volunteering for an enhanced testing program to back up his words.
In baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun — who starred in college at UM — accepted a 65-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic, where records show he received PEDs from Tony Bosch, the former operator of the now-closed Miami clinic. The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who grew up in Miami and also is connected to the clinic, is expected to receive an even harsher penalty as Major League Baseball’s investigation nears its end.
And in late July, video surfaced on the Internet of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver — and, coincidentally, another former Gator — Riley Cooper using a racial slur at a concert. He apologized publicly and to his team in private. The Eagles fined him for the indiscretion, and he has since left the team to pursue counseling.
Despite the wrongdoing, Corneille sees value in athletes who learn from off-field mistakes. He said his favorite athlete is Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who was kicked off the football team while in college at LSU for failing drug tests.
“I look up to [Mathieu] because even though he had all these problems he had to face, they didn’t stop him from reaching his dream,” Corneille said. “The Aaron Hernandez case does not make it hard for me to look up to athletes because all of us grew up completely different. Some of us leave the life we used to live behind and some of us don’t.”
Trying to figure out who left the life behind and who didn’t is now certainly on the agenda for NFL teams. Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports reported that in wake of the Hernandez case, NFL teams might begin using experts to examine the tattoos of draft prospects to ensure players do not have any gang ties.