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AARON HERNANDEZ, RINGO STARR, ROBERT DOWNEY JR: What Do They Have In Common? Sadly, Not Enough …

Reports are prison officials had placed Aaron Hernandez on suicide watch — not surprising, really, when you consider how the one-time NFL star, just convicted of first-degree murder and various firearm violations, has sabotaged his entire life. In a flourish so corny it’s worthy of a bang-you-over-the-head-with-its-message parable, for several days following his sentencing, Hernandez’s  accommodations  were a correctional institution located a scant one-and-a-half miles from another facility he’d frequented previously: Foxborough, Massachusetts’ Gillette Stadium. 

Close enough to hear the crowd’s roar on a victorious New England Patriots’ Sunday.

Hernandez’s misdeeds have exacted a cost on him — a crushing one.  Contracts worth $40 million for competing alongside Tom Brady and Company and endorsement deals which promised additional earnings — all unceremoniously snatched away. The gridiron stand-out’s likeness has been ditched from EA Sports video games, a prize-winning, rookie-season photo of him expunged from the NFL Hall of Fame and his name scrubbed from assorted University of Florida football facilities. Particularly stark: Panini America has excised stickers and trading cards of the superstar from half-a-million collectors books — replacing them with images of Tim Tebow. 

It’s as if the sporting world wants to erase his very memory; as though Aaron Hernandez’s athletic exploits never happened. 

Then there’s passing the remainder of his days not at one of his two domiciles (including a $1.3 million home), but in a tax-sponsored cage — from which he’ll pursue, presumably through a plexiglass barrier, whatever relationship he can salvage with his fiancee and two-and-one-half year old daughter.

Punishingly succinct is the opening sentence of Hernandez’s Wikipedia entry, which identifies him as “a former American football tight end”. Well under thirty years-of-age, and he’s already a “former”. A condition, incontrovertibly,  he brought on himself. Ouch.

Regular folks shake their heads: “How could he throw it all away?” 

Actually? Not that complicated: we can’t read Hernandez’s mind, but odds are he indulged a few, fatal miscalculations: 

— That baleful, eons-old self-delusion: It’ll never happen to me. I’ll get away with it

His record gloomily suggests this young man nursed an ongoing taste for violence and posses of like-minded brutes he wouldn’t quit. Repeated, barely-skirted brushes with the law? Lots of close-call moments perfect for gasping a sigh of relief and straightening out his ways? It appears Hernandez shrugged them all off and kept churning down his ill-fated path, heedless of repercussions.

A football in hand, turns out, ain’t a talisman to ward off malefaction’s consequences — something  Aaron Hernandez is discovering.

— That monumental human foible of mulishly refusing warnings from other peoples’ blunders

Sam Levenson memorably insisted a wise man learns from others’ mistakes — nobody lives long enough to glean every, crucial lesson from his own.

There’ve been no lack of formidably talented sports figures for whom women, drink, drugs, lawlessness, careless lifestyles translated into personal and career calamity. But Hernandez manifestly did not benefit from the red-flag examples of these casualties who’ve preceded him.

What — Mike Tyson’s downfall didn’t make a dent in the now-locked-up superjock’s psyche? Daryl Strawberry’s implosion failed to register? What about Dennis Rodman, Dwight Gooden, Ricky Waters, Pete Rose, Michael Vick — the lachrymose roll-call goes on and on. And keeps growing, because tragic dolts like Aaron Hernandez choose not to benefit from the demolitional recklessness of those who should serve as sobering admonitions, but won’t for those who can’t be bothered to pay attention. 

— Misplaced emphasis on fame rather than personal honor and decency

To be fair, modern society surely goaded Hernandez enthusiastically along this benighted path. Sports’ fans notoriously enshrine their preferred competitors as demi-gods, overlooking any indiscretion providing they continue producing on the playing field — Patriots’ devotees not excluded.

I’ll never forget at the height of O.J. Simpson’s murder-trial firestorm, Bill Bennett’s diagnosing a root cause: a populace which elevates celebrity over character. Admittedly, although this always has been a pointed vulnerability for “big shots”, more than ever 21st-century Western civilization endorses this short-sighted perspective. Witness the ascendancy of the “anti-hero” (a demonstrably ruthless guy who becomes an audience favorite) in film, TV and literature. Note the lionizing of “gangsta rappers”. “Bad boys” used to have to pretend, at least, to behave themselves. Currently? Worse they act, more they’re cheered.

Why would Aaron Hernandez have resolved to act the gentleman? Likely, there was precious little pressure on him to do so. 

By happenstance, about the time a jury was handing the fallen New England tight end his much-deserved desserts, former Beatle Ringo Starr came clean about his own decades-spanning travails, detailing to the Times of London and People  a nearly twenty-year, alcohol-fueled funk that plagued him following the Fab Four’s 1970 demise. It was a career-stunting spell of addiction, blackouts and limited work — eclipsing in a 1988 rehab stint which hauled him out of his rut. 

It wouldn’t be delusional to presume, at some juncture, the world-renowned drummer took a gander around his industry and drew a cautionary cue from the ruined and prematurely extinguished lives scattered across it. Perhaps the wreckage of too many precipitately deceased or needlessly ravaged fellow performers inspired Ringo to not follow suit. 

Robert Downey Jr., similarly, has lately reminded the public of his own close-run thing. Another entertainment luminary on the fast track to fame and fortune, he nearly junked it all thanks to a protracted patch of criminal and suicidal brainlessness. In his case, though, exposure to the judicial system did the trick; he emerged transformed.

At the unlikely venue of 2015’s MTV Movie Awards, the fifty-year-old “Iron Man” confessed, “I’ve grown up, I’ve struggled, I’ve failed, I’ve succeeded, I’ve partied way too much … I’ve squandered, resisted, surrendered, repented, labored, begged for second chances and literally clawed my way to the top.” Then, exhorting viewers:  “I’ve tried to live honorably … I invite you to dream big, work hard, keep your nose clean, be of service”.

Ringo Starr and RDJ elected to face their impending doom one way. Aaron Hernandez, conversely, settled for another — with devastating, irreversible aftereffect.

Obviously, Hernandez’s life is not literally over – he’s still alive. From the Christian perspective, as long as there’s a heart beating and breath inhaled, hope endures (1 Peter 1:3). (See King Manasseh’s experience (2 Chronicles 33). Yet, even within a best case scenario, the disgraced pro-athlete will not be — should never be — permitted freedom’s sublimest joys. 

The good news? The possibility remains someone else will observe Aaron Hernandez’s bleak trek from football stadium to prison yard and decide for him/herself that’s not the egregious path to pursue.

Images: Modified from:; http://imusictoday.; https://tvcinemaemusica.

Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.

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