Skip to main content

NFL doesn't have answers on Hernandez

By Donald McPherson, Special to CNN
updated 10:34 PM EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is led into the courtroom to be arraigned on homicide charges on Wednesday, May 28, in Boston. Hernandez pleaded not guilty in the 2012 killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. He has also been charged in the 2013 death of semipro football player Odin Lloyd. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is led into the courtroom to be arraigned on homicide charges on Wednesday, May 28, in Boston. Hernandez pleaded not guilty in the 2012 killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. He has also been charged in the 2013 death of semipro football player Odin Lloyd.
HIDE CAPTION
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
Rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Don McPherson: Many are shocked that Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder
  • McPherson: When players commit heinous crimes, the NFL doesn't have answers
  • He says there is little the league can do to influence the behavior of its players off field
  • McPherson: NFL players are products of our collective society

Editor's note: Don McPherson is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, a feminist and social justice educator. Follow him on Twitter: @donmcpherson.

(CNN) -- Many were shocked this week when New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and linked to an unsolved double-homicide case from 2012.

The tone in the sports community has been muted because this is occurring during the off-season and the impact on the "game" is minimal.

There are many unanswered questions about the Hernandez case. What does it tell us about the intersection of sports and the violent and sometimes criminal behavior of athletes off the field?

Don McPherson
Don McPherson

With a few exceptions, the National Football League's governance of players' lives is restricted to behaviors that impact the game and the business of the league. Players who violate the law and the rights of others are subject to the much broader laws that govern every citizen. When players commit crimes such as murder, looking to the league for answers is not the solution.

The Patriots have quickly cut ties with Hernandez but are faced with a "dead money" issue (the ironic name for money tied to a player no longer with the team, that counts against a team's salary cap). On the field, they are left with a more uncertain hole at the tight end position.

There's a sentiment that on-field performance is all that we should be concerned with when it comes to sports and athletes. No more was that on display than this past Super Bowl where the most popular player on the field was Ray Lewis, who 13 years ago was in a similar position as Aaron Hernandez is today. Lewis was in jail charged with murder. While he was later exonerated, Ray Lewis has been, in part, redeemed by football.

Three in custody in Massachusetts death
Aaron Hernandez denied bail

As incidents of violence increase in volume and severity it is becoming more difficult to ignore the social transgressions of athletes simply because they entertain us. The bigger question is: What is the tipping point?

The dissonance regarding sports in our society is palpable. The NFL is the most successful and powerful sports entity in the world. For many, it symbolizes the greatest elements of the meritocracy of sports and business. Success is built on sound principle, discipline and character. The NFL's success is not simply due to the popularity of the game itself, but the business of monetizing the game. The players are merely widgets in that business.

However, as the NFL continues to grow in revenue and appeal, the off-field behavior of some of the players threaten to tarnish the pristine veneer of the brand.

The sport has an esteemed place in our culture by helping to build communities, teaching young people leadership and discipline, and promoting team spirit. But why is it that so many successful athletes -- those who have reached the pinnacle of their game -- seem to lack discipline in their lives away from the game? Why is there such a glaring discrepancy?

The problem for the NFL is that there is little the league can do to influence the behavior of its current players. The NFL is not the nurturer of men; it is not responsible for the attitudes and behaviors of the men its teams employ.

As the great former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, "sports don't build character. They reveal it."

While the players on the field are stars of the business, they are not stars because of their depth of character or values and judgment. Their individual moral compass is their own, even if the sport has some influence over their perception of the world.

Their stardom lies in the volume of exposure the business affords them. And, like the mega-salaries that make headlines, the business is such that the individual doesn't matter.

What matters is that the individual can get the job done in the context of the business. And, in this case, character and discipline off the field have no relevance to success on the field.

NFL players are products of our collective society and they take center stage in one of the most successful enterprises of our society.

When we hear about Hernandez or Javon Belcher, we shouldn't assume that it's solely an NFL problem. It's a larger societal issue.

No child is born to be an NFL player. The young men who grow up and are recognized for their talents need to be more than warriors on the field. The positive influences outside of their athletic lives need to be stronger and at every stage of their lives.

The pursuit of excellence can exist in all aspects of a young athlete's life and it should begin with civility before any games are played.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Don McPherson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT