No wonder Aaron Hernandez felt he was entitled to a break when he and a friend who was driving 105 mph were pulled over by a state trooper on a Boston expressway and Hernandez said, “Trooper, I’m Aaron Hernandez — it’s OK.” What is OK? To be a speeding hazard alongside a friend who was charged with DUI? Weeks later in Miami, Hernandez allegedly shot that friend in the face. The star tight end is now being sued by that friend and is in jail facing murder charges in another case. Hernandez never learned the meaning of consequences. He was allowed to keep playing by the Florida Gators and New England Patriots despite a documented history of violent behavior and drug use.
An athlete’s bulletproof feeling is strengthened by cases such as that of Donté Stallworth, who served only 30 days for DUI manslaughter. After drinking in Miami Beach on March 14, 2009, Stallworth was driving his Bentley when he struck and killed a crane operator who was walking across the MacArthur Causeway. If Stallworth, then a Cleveland wide receiver, hadn’t been rich, he would not have reached a financial settlement with the victim’s family and the plea deal would not have been so light.
And who was out drinking with Stallworth that night but the Jets’ Braylon Edwards, who was arrested for DUI a year later.
If the football field truly is nirvana for players, then the NFL must again re-examine its personal conduct policy and toughen suspension sanctions. The NFLPA must think beyond protecting players and protect those who could be injured or killed by them.
After his arrest, Smith bailed out of jail quickly and got to practice. There, coach Jim Harbaugh said his linebacker who had plowed into a tree a few hours earlier would practice and play on Sunday.
“He needs to go to work,” Harbaugh said.
In Smith’s case, the NFL workplace was the last place he needed to be.