I’ve been around football players my entire life. In high school I was a manager/trainer/coach. At my first college I was an equipment manager. At my second college I reported on the players on the team at my first school. And now that I am home I am going to work with a little high school as a position coach. I have always been around this game. I’ve seen the ups and the downs, the lows and the highs, the thrills and the disappointments.
Today was definitely a low.
Much like that white bronco in the OJ trial was a black mark on the state of sports in this country, the shots of Aaron Hernandez walking from his house and being escorted around with a t-shirt covering his hand-cuffed arms will sober our infatuation with revering sports stars (at least until the next season starts). Don’t get me wrong, I will always believe the potential impact an athlete can have on the lives around them can be immense. A person like a Tim Tebow can inspire values of hard work, respect for the game and faith in whatever you believe. The issue with a portion of the current professional athletes making negative waves in the media is not all of them are Tim Tebow.
A lot of the comments I have been reading today is that how can these college-educated people get into so much trouble. It is naïve to think that just because an athlete goes to college they get a college education. In my experience, most high-profile athletes take classes they can pass and hope their draft stock rises high enough. But we can’t blame the perception of athletes within society on the colleges or education in general (although, LeBron James’ speech makes an exception), at it’s heart the problem is a socio-economic issue.
While I can’t find a conclusive study on where athletes from the major sports come from (although there was a really good one from ESPN specifically on the NBA), I can give observations from the things that I have seen with my own two eyes. Most young (and that is the operative word) athletes have a crew – a group of guys that do stuff for the athlete – and they tend to throw their money around while with their friends because of bonds they developed when they had no money. It’s sort of a diluted moral obligation. If your buddies take care of you when you have nothing, you take care of them when you rise to the top. Think the HBO series Entourage, but in real life.
Bottom line, I’m a little bummed. The idealist in me looks at the opportunity Hernandez had, the endgame goal so many 8-year olds in back yards dream of, and wonders how he can enter the league and still let the hubris, the need for this specific counter culture show of perceived slights, overwhelm him. Maybe it is a psychological thing. The athletes revert to this lifestyle when they have the money because it is familiar – even if harmful – and allows them to put the stress of the new, very much in the public eye, job into perspective.
But even as a coping mechanism, killing people isn’t all right. The NFL does so much for their rookies in an effort they don’t go down this road. But you look at this kids getting themselves into these types of situations and have to wonder “can they do more?”