Culture At Large

Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots and being duped by evil

Todd Hertz

The Patriots have me thinking about serpents and doves this week. 

On June 26, NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested on murder and weapons charges. His team, the New England Patriots, promptly released him. On Monday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke to reporters for the first time since Hernandez’s arrest.

“If this stuff is true, then I've been duped,” Kraft said, according to ESPN. “He was always respectful to me … a most likable young man. He spoke about wanting to be a role model in the Hispanic community. I believed him. ...He knew how to push my buttons."

He went on to say, without knowing if the allegations are true, that he and the organization “made a mistake and are facing it head on.” What does that mean? Kraft explained: “You can be sure we'll be looking at our procedures and auditing how we do things."

In other words, Kraft feels taken advantage of by an employee who sold a false bill of goods. He assumes that better systems could have avoided such miscalculations, that the Patriots missed something procedurally. But did they?

Certainly, NFL teams - or any employer - should take character into question in hiring. And obviously there is a stewardship angle when it comes to contracts worth millions of dollars. But I am reluctant - from the outside looking in - to see that the Patriots made a mistake in trusting Hernandez was who he said he was. Yes, there were rumors about illegal behavior in college, but Hernandez addressed those issues head on with the Patriots in a pre-draft letter claiming he’d turned his life around.  And since then, there seems to have been no signs of a dark side.

Is there an onus on the part of those who trust deceivers?

I do understand the feeling of being duped, but where Kraft loses me is in the resolve to do better next time - to smoke out trouble players. Kraft may be caught up in that American sense of self-reliance which makes it feel like there is always more we could have done. But when it comes to the darkness of the human heart, that is not always true. If Hernandez is guilty, then yes, in retrospect, it was clearly not wise to trust his words nor to give him a large contract extension just 11 months ago. But without the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, how could they have known? How could they have seen through a polite, contrite and likeable sheen to what may be one man’s hidden and secret dark side?

And a bigger question: is there an onus on the part of those who trust deceivers? Or is the blame squarely on the shoulders of those deceiving? My mind keeps going back to a phrase a family member used to say: “If someone is gonna get you, they are gonna get ya.” The desire for something and a will to do anything for it is a dangerous combination.

On this side of eternity, evil that lurks in one’s heart can have a temporal advantage - it’s unpredictable and persistent. It’s unfathomable that someone would turn passenger planes into missiles against buildings or put bombs in a backpack at a race. With the element of surprise and by dwelling in the unthinkable, evil can be a powerful wild card.

Still, we aren’t left without recourse. When Jesus sent his disciples out “like sheep among the wolves,” he advised them to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

As I think about Robert Kraft and Aaron Hernandez this week, I am working through that balance. How can we be on guard but not withdraw all trust? How do we make sure we aren’t being duped, yet not grow so hard-hearted that we rob second chances from those who truly have changed? How do make sure we aren’t duped but also realize how much is out of our hands?

These are complex questions that arise from an increasingly complex case.

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