One Aaron Hernandez. Many possible paths. A large lesson in squandered opportunity.
Hernandez, a former Florida tight end, represents many things now that his strange story has come to an end after he was found dead in his prison cell early Wednesday. He could have spent a long life enjoying the spoils that his football talent gifted him. Instead, he’ll be remembered for a dark legacy.
Hernandez could have used his platform as a prominent figure to give back to the world. Instead, he wasted it all and produced so much pain.
There are numerous forks along the way on the road of life, and our decisions shape character. We can choose to create or destroy, to love or hate, to enrich others or tear down those around us.
Nothing about our journey is predestined. We discover our own destinations, and the amount of sunlight those places hold depends on us.
Upon leaving Gainesville, Hernandez could have become a standout professional for many years after the New England Patriots made him a fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He could have become a symbol of pride for many Florida fans, one that brought to mind the Gators’ successful era with Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and others. He could have represented something much different than what he came known to be while hunched in Massachusetts courtrooms with details from his sordid past brought to light for the country to absorb in horror.
Instead, Hernandez was largely alone near the end while serving a life sentence for the 2013 slaying of Odin Lloyd.
The former Florida star’s fall was stunning, sickening and sad.
News of Hernandez’s death Wednesday, just 5 days after he was found not guilty of first-degree murder in the killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado at a Boston club in 2012, serves as an empty closing chapter to a story that produced so many shocking twists in recent years. Hernandez’s tale came to become a reminder that fame and riches are fleeting if reckless and harmful choices are made.
No man, no matter his wealth or athletic ability, is above personal destruction.
Hernandez became an extreme example of that lesson. At one time, it appeared Hernandez’s football talent would carry him far, just as his skill delivered him from a rough upbringing in Bristol, Conn., to celebrated Saturdays at The Swamp.
He had 1,382 yards receiving with 12 touchdowns as part of the Gators from 2007-09. He enjoyed a national championship with Florida during the 2008 season. He became an impact player with the Patriots from 2010-12, totaling 1,956 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns in 38 regular-season games.
Yes, signs of trouble began at Florida. Hernandez was accused of punching a bouncer at a Gainesville bar while out with Tebow in April 2007. He was questioned in connection with a September 2007 shooting in the college town. No charges were filed against Hernandez in those incidents, but it’s simple to revisit both episodes now with concern.
One Hernandez. Many possible paths. A large regret.
On this day, it’s hard not to wonder if Hernandez could have walked in a different direction. It’s hard not to wonder if someway, somehow, he could have traveled an alternate path and avoided the darkness that became public knowledge after he left Gainesville. But he didn’t, and he became a despicable figure for many by the end, his name forever attached to multiple terrible memories.
We’re all left to wonder if another outcome was possible.