Hernandez tries to find sanctuary in his sport

ASSOCIATED PRESS Aaron Hernandez was escorted out of Gillette Stadium as Patriots tried to avoid a media stakeout.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Aaron Hernandez was escorted out of Gillette Stadium as Patriots tried to avoid a media stakeout.
Posted: June 24, 2013

IT WOULD almost be comical if it weren't so pathetically predictable.

The mindset of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez isn't that different from any other professional athlete.

Ever since athletes have displayed a real talent for the game, usually before they've hit puberty, their chosen sport has been a sanctuary, an enabler, a protector, a fixer.

So does it really come as a surprise that on Thursday, with his world starting to crumble because of an investigation into his possible role in a homicide, the first place Hernandez would go to was Gillette Stadium, the center of operations for the Patriots organization?

It wasn't until staff members asked him to leave after he'd been there for 35 minutes that Hernandez decided it might be a good idea to meet with his attorney.

Yesterday, a Patriots source told NFL.com Hernandez was escorted out because they did not want Gillette Stadium to become a media stakeout.

There have conflicting media reports as to whether Massachusetts authorities were to execute an arrest warrant for Hernandez in connection with the homicide investigation of Odin Lloyd, who was found on Monday with a fatal gunshot to the back of the head near Hernandez' home in North Attleborough.

A charge of obstruction of justice, which is being considered after video surveillance equipment was purposely destroyed and Hernandez' cellphone was turned in to the police "in pieces," could be the least of his concerns.

Police sources have told the media Hernandez, 23, had not been ruled out as a suspect in the slaying.

There are reports of a video that appears to show Hernandez with Lloyd in Boston early Monday morning and another video that shows him with Lloyd and two other men in his neighborhood hours before Lloyd was killed.

Family members of the dead man said that Lloyd was dating the sister of Hernandez' girlfriend, the Associated Press reported.

The circumstantial evidence is building against Hernandez.

The fact that police want to know why Hernandez allegedly destroyed possible physical evidence and then had his house cleaned and scrubbed on Monday makes it look as if he's trying to hide something.

I can wait for law enforcement to present the details and evidence.

Still, it fascinates me that the place Hernandez would run to in the wake of police interest in him was Gillette Stadium.

But it is not surprising.

A training facility or a locker room is a sanctuary for athletes. It's the place they can go where the outside world is not allowed unless invited.

After a game or practice, if an athlete doesn't want to talk, he retreats to any one of numerous areas that are off-limits to anyone but team personnel.

I think Hernandez went to Gillette out of instinct.

For his entire career, from high school to college at the University of Florida to the Patriots, the football facility was always the place players could good to sort through things, to have things fixed.

On Dec. 1, 2012, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend and mother of his infant daughter.

Belcher then drove to Arrowhead Stadium, where he was confronted by the Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and then-coach Romeo Crennel.

Pioli, Crennel and an assistant coach were talking to Belcher, who was holding a gun to his head.

Belcher thanked them for the opportunities they had given him; then when he walked away and committed suicide in the parking lot of the practice facility.

Whatever else was going on in Belcher's head, something told him to go to the Chiefs facility, as if there were an answer there that would make everything all right.

How many times have we seen a professional sports organization circle the wagons around a player or coach who suddenly gets into some kind of trouble?

How many times have we seen a team take control of the information and its dissemination - sometimes even to the frustration of law-enforcement officials?

You would have thought Hernandez had learned his lesson when his first-round talent slipped to the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. Teams reportedly backed off him because of his questionable associations and because he had admitted to failing drug tests.

In 2012, Hernandez signed a 5-year, $40 million extension that included a $12.5 million signing bonus, the most ever given to a tight end.

But as we have seen all too often, money doesn't make the questionable associations and actions of athletes decline. It often increases them.

Also this week, a $100,000 lawsuit was filed by a South Florida man who claims Hernandez shot him after they argued in February outside of a Miami nightclub.

The investigation concerning Lloyd's death is fluid. How much or how little Hernandez was involved is still to be determined.

But what Hernandez found out on Thursday is that football can't shelter him from the trouble he's in now.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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