Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be professional athletes.
What was once the gold standard in daydreams for millions of kids took another hit last week when New England Patriots pro football player Aaron Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Odin Lloyd, a friend who played semipro football in Boston.
The 23-year-old Hernandez, who signed a seven-year, $41 million contract with the Pats last August, is also being investigated in an unsolved double homicide last year in Boston.
Certainly, Hernandez is innocent until proven otherwise and deserves his day in court. Prosecutors have said the evidence against him is “overwhelming,” surely part of the reasoning behind a Massachusetts Superior Court judge’s decision to deny Hernandez bail.
While National Football League players have a healthy market share on criminal and just plain bad behavior, they do not own the corner.
From baseball’s Barry Bonds’ fall to obstruction of justice to hockey player Mike Blanton’s murder conspiracy conviction to Lance Armstrong’s admitted disgrace in the Tour de France, the luster of being an elite athlete — the hero kids want to be — is accumulating tarnish.
Nor is it just pros. A Baylor University basketball player murdered a teammate in 2003.
The NFL rap sheet is growing longer, too. Two reporters from the San Diego Union-Tribune have compiled a database of player arrests since 2000.
Hernandez was entry 663.
The compilation is primarily a parade of DUIs, minor drug charges and gun troubles ranging from no license to being quick to pull out a weapon during an altercation.
Granted, fame and fortune attracts idiots like a drop-back quarterback attracts a blitz, so many professional athletes who pack a firearm (as many as three out of four NFL players, according to some reports) or employ “bodyguards” argue that they do so because they have a legitimate concern for their safety. Of course, finding yourself armed at 3 a.m. in the middle of a boozy melee at a club is a recipe for disaster.
Nor should we think the arrest history for NFL players is a mile wide and only a misdemeanor deep.
The Union-Tribune database is peppered with domestic abuse and violence charges, assault and battery and high-profile felonies from mayhem to murder.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Hernandez case raises the specter that the football hero we cheer on Sunday afternoon could be planning a murder the following week.
What all this means for the games we love — if anything — remains to be seen. Much has been written in the past week about professional teams upping the “character” ante for would-be employees. Also unanswered is if or when Hernandez ever showed the kind of behavior that would lead to phrases such as double homicide or denied bail.
Inexplicable, too, is why (even given the variety of backgrounds and upbringings professional athletes bring to their employment) someone would purposefully throw away $6 million a year to pursue being a bad guy.
We might also wonder if professional sports — and in a larger sense the world — has changed beyond our comprehension, moving from one set of standards to another, curious and alien to us.
Armstrong was quite revealing when he said in an interview last week that winning the Tour de France when he was competing was “impossible” without doping. Really? The standard has moved that much?
And if it has, what is our reaction as sports fans, as members of society, as human beings?
Speaking of curious, on the sports channels of our sports-obsessed nation, I watched reporters this past week blend the death of Lloyd and the arrest of Hernandez with what the Patriots are going to do to replace the all-star tight end they fired — which they did several hours after he was arrested.
For first-degree murder.
Number 663 in the database.