Aaron Hernandez: A Defense of the Patriots, the Patriot Way


Oct 21, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) reacts after a review went in his favor during the third quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 29-26. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

With every development in the Aaron Hernandez investigation, there comes along new criticisms of the Patriots organization, the “Patriot Way,” and Hernandez himself. Much of the criticism is unfair and, quite frankly, an excuse to get readers. Journalists are seizing the opportunity to see a huge boost in their views during the slowest period of the off-season, so they are quick to stir the pot with only a few ingredients added. Sports media aren’t the only sources to blame, the major news sources have all released conflicting reports of arrest warrants, actual arrests, and evidence found while attributing these stories to un-named sources. While there are bound to be some conflicting reports in most news stories, the severity of these errors in reporting of the Hernandez investigation (such as his “impending arrest” last Friday) are enough to drive a Hernandez supporter crazy. In the midst of this craze, I’d like to do my part in attempting to calm everyone down.

First, to those suggesting the Patriots were fools to draft Hernandez in the first place, I show you the picks that were taken around Hernandez’s spot. If the Patriots were to select a tight end again in the spot that they drafted Hernandez, the best available would be Dennis Pitta (selected by the Ravens with the pick right after the Patriots’). If the Patriots passed on Pitta, then Garrett Graham, Clay Harbor, and Michael Hoomanawanui would have become the best TEs available. Yes, Hernandez had drug problems at school, failing a drug test because of marijuana. While I’m not going to advocate or defend drug use in college, the fact that Hernandez was only smoking pot and not engaging in harder drugs or even performance enhancers is something that an interested team could overlook if the perceived talent was worth it (see Tyrann Mathieu). The other concern was for the group of friends that Hernandez surrounded himself with. This could be the root of these legal troubles for all we know, but to see three years in to the future and predict this type of dilemma is not something anyone can do. To those that would (only now) rather the Patriots have drafted Pitta instead of Hernandez, here are their stats from the past three seasons:

Hernandez38 Games Played175 Receptions1,956 Yards11.2 Avg. Yards18 Touchdowns
Pitta43 Games Played102 Receptions1,075 Yards10.5 Avg. Yards10 Touchdowns

With those stats, any argument that the Patriots should have passed on Hernandez is invalid. With fewer games played, Hernandez crushed all of Pitta’s stats and became one of Brady’s most reliable targets. Most of Hernandez’s stats he earned while playing with a healthy Gronkowski as well, which further validates his ability as a play maker. One could argue the Patriots were a healthy Gronk away from a Super Bowl victory, so just because Pitta has a ring doesn’t make him superior. To those who still think the Patriots shouldn’t have drafted him because of this legal investigation, ask any Ravens fan if they regret drafting Ray Lewis.

Oct 14, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) celebrates a touchdown reception against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Next, to those who say that the “Patriot Way” is dead, I strongly disagree. The “Patriot Way” isn’t some notion that everyone on the Patriots is perfect and has never had a lack of judgement. It’s not a “kosher” label or suggestion that every player on the roster is the same tight-lipped icon that Coach Belichick prefers to be. The “Patriot Way” is the idea that every player on the roster is committed to winning  and playing at a high level in any manner that contributes to the team. Members of the Patriots team and organization are expected to be non-confrontational in their approach to the media and other players while maintaining a humble attitude. For example, a player such as Richard Sherman would not fit the mold of the “Patriot Way” because, despite his talent, he has a non-humble attitude and he is very willing to call out other players. Players that are not dedicated to the team and do not make every effort to contribute can be considered those that do not buy in to the “Patriot Way.” Randy Moss was a great experiment for the Patriots that payed off for a while, but his poor attitude led to his quick dismissal from the team. The poor work ethics of Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco violate the “Patriot Way” and explain their short-lived tenures with the Patriots.

Bill Belichick taking chances on troubled players is not a sign the “Patriot Way” is dead, it is simply good business. He has embraced low-risk, high-reward moves that have brought skilled players to the team and given them a chance to shine. These moves are never going to work 100% of the time and it is unreasonable to expect that from any coach, organization, or business. These moves that worked (Corey Dillon, Rodney Harrison, Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, etc.) brought talent to the Patriots that attributed to their success over the past decade. The moves that didn’t work (Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, etc.) fade into black while the team and its fans quickly move on. A sign that the “Patriot Way” is alive and well is the new presence of Tim Tebow. Many (such as myself) speculate his role with the Patriots most likely won’t be on the field, but off the field, similar to Doug Flutie. The positive energy and morale he will bring to the locker room will help promote the “Patriot Way.”

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to address the negative comments, accusations, and jokes directed at Aaron Hernandez. The thing most people seem to forget is that a man died. Regardless of who did it, the implications for the Patriots organization or your fantasy football team, Odin Lloyd was killed. Any jokes about the investigation are in poor taste and show a disregard for the victim and his family. Next, the only information we are privy to is given to us by the media and sources other than Hernandez himself and police. Lots of people are playing detective and are calling Hernandez a murderer or an accomplice to murder, but the fact is that right now he is an innocent man and will remain so until a jury declares him otherwise. If you are a true Patriots fan, and a true member of Patriot Nation, you will withhold judgement of Hernandez until all of the facts are out and informed opinions can be made. Keep that in mind before you burn your #81 jersey.

Feb 5, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) celebrates with teammates Rob Gronkowski (87) and Wes Welker (83) after scoring a touchdown during the second half of Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports