Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Aaron Hernandez serves as a sobering, cautionary reminder

Former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez stands up after he is sentenced to life in prison at his murder trial at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Mass., on Wednesday, April 15, 2015.
Former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez stands up after he is sentenced to life in prison at his murder trial at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Mass., on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. AP

Most New Englanders still call the Massachusetts Correctional Institute-Cedar Junction by its former name — Walpole. It is a notorious maximum-security prison whose residents have included Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler. It is 1 1/2 miles from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, where the Patriots play.

I wonder if Aaron Hernandez will be able to hear the cheering on Sundays, or if he will just imagine that he does.

The real-life intrusions into the fun and games of sports keep coming and won’t stop, because we know by now from relentless reminders that the people so skilled and gifted at being athletes sometimes are not nearly as accomplished at being human beings.

They are so good when we are watching them.

But what about when we are not?

What secrets do they keep?

Be careful who your heroes are, boys and girls. Mind how tall you build your pedestals.

The epic fall of Hernandez reached its summation Wednesday when a jury found the former Florida Gators star guilty of first-degree murder in the 2013 killing of Odin L. Lloyd. He will now serve life without parole just up the road from where he once was cheered catching Tom Brady’s passes for one of the NFL’s marquee franchises.

Hernandez, 25, has given up his freedom and future, not to mention glory and a $40 million contract.

Odin L. Lloyd gave up much more, of course.

It’s an American tragedy. Capital crime almost always is. It’s just that most murders are hardly even deemed newsworthy, sad as that is, unless there is something or someone to elevate the crime’s profile and attract the TV cameras.

In this case it wasn’t the victim, but the man a jury said pulled the trigger.

A prominent sports star involved in a crime somehow always gets our attention, even though by now we should be used to the idea that athletes, as a cross section, are as likely as anybody else to get in trouble. Maybe more so, considering their fame and wealth can create a sense of bulletproof entitlement and tend to attract sycophants — the proverbial “wrong crowd.”

It’s odd. Professional teams and colleges spend millions measuring everything imaginable about an athlete’s skills and what they might bring to the future.

Teams should put as much effort into knowing what isn’t as easily seen and might sabotage that future. Is there a predilection for guns or drugs or violence that won’t be volunteered in an interview? Are there secrets?

One day before the Hernandez verdict, across the country, a former NFL running back, Lawrence Phillips (very briefly a Dolphin in 1997), stood accused of murdering his California prison cellmate. Phillips set off warning signals from the start, but teams chose to be blind.

Meanwhile, Ray Rice is still out of work, wearing the stain of that video that showed him punching and knocking down his then-fiancée. Rarely are we privy to a video so revealing.

What Rice did drew even more attention than what Hernandez did because we saw it, and it was shocking to see.

Or maybe the Hernandez trial was relatively under-covered because by degrees we are becoming desensitized — so used to athletes doing wrong that even the ultimate wrong doesn’t shock us.

Hernandez still faces trial on yet two more murders, by the way.

The sports-shame scale runs the gamut now, from murder to Darren Sharper and rape to domestic abuse to the mundane cheating of performance-enhancing drugs.

There is always something percolating, some off-field turmoil. Now it is that three NBA players and New York City police are involved in the wrong kind of headlines related to a fracas outside a nightclub.

Raise your hand if you remember when athletes and police both enjoyed far more trust and a better reputation than they do now.

The vast majority of people in both groups are likely very decent, but in any large sample size there will be outliers. These are the people — cops, athletes, teachers, sports writers, anybody — who drink too much, or use drugs, or raise their hands to women, or cheat and have a lie rehearsed should a cover-up be required.

The bad few don’t often choose their doomed path. It might be beyond their control. It is pointless to lament how Hernandez could be so “stupid” to throw all he had away. It was the glitch in his DNA, the short circuit in his brain, that did that for him.

An athlete accused of multiple murders obviously is the far extreme of these outliers.

The others are around, though.

Don’t we know it by now?

In most any police department, on most any sports team, in most any workplace, lurking among the honorable majority are the secret keepers.

We don’t know who they are.

They haven’t been caught yet.

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