There’s a sad running joke among me and my friends who are fans of the NFL. During the offseason, we joke among ourselves about who would be the next player to get into some off-field trouble. It’s funny for a bit but it sadly shines a great light on a serious issue: NFL players are getting into trouble way too often.
Today’s arrest of Aaron Hernandez is another example about how the NFL offseason has become a dangerous time for the players. It isn’t injuries on the field that’s hurting players, it’s the offseason.
The problem athletes face today is the hardships of balancing fame, fortune and free time. Many of these players have never been taught how to handle all three at once. In fact, so many of these players are so inexperienced that they have leechers ready to pounce on them at any moment. That’s what sometimes gets these players in trouble. Without any idea how to handle the fame and fortune, the free time is used trying to figure out how to do it.
Athletes are creatures of habit and during the NFL season, they are focused on the game that these opportunities to screw up are very few. But once the season is over and they are free to do what they want, that’s where trouble begins. Bad influences show up, bad thoughts emerge, and eventually, bad decisions are made.
Hernandez is a different case than the most club fights or DUIs we hear, but I still think that if the season was going on today, Hernandez might not have gotten the chance to get involved in a murder situation. We don’t know what role he played in this, but it’s hard to imagine this happening if Hernandez was focused on football.
What’s sad about this is that the Patriots knew this was going to happen. Teams these days are putting the short leash on all players. Any kind of mistake and teams are ready to cut the player loose. It’s a sign of the times where these mistakes are expected and the teams just can’t handle all the negative publicity it brings.
Ironically, the Rookie Symposium is underway this week and these are the kind of things that the event tells young players to avoid. There are opportunities for these players to learn about the dangers of being a young, famous athletes. Unfortunately, not everyone listens. And for those who do listen, not everyone remembers.
There isn’t an easy way for these athletes to get through an empty offseason. It’s been a constant struggle for some time, only that it’s magnified more because players are getting paid more and have a lot of different opportunities to do things in the offseason. In the case of Hernandez, he got himself involved in something that probably doesn’t happen if he wasn’t busy with football.
I’m not saying that the NFL should be working players around the clock, but it’s very clear that fame, fortune and free time are a dangerous thing for the NFL player. Sadly, a man died because of it. I don’t know what Hernandez did, but it’s another chapter to an ongoing episode of how athletes just themselves involved in some very bad situations.