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July 4, 2013

Hernandez has created a public relations nightmare for the NFL

NORMAN, Okla. — It’s been a busy offseason for the NFL and not in a good way. Instead of talking about expansion and prosperity, it’s had to deal with off the field issues.

Since the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in an exciting Super Bowl, 29 NFL players have been arrested. None more high profile or unbelievable than former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder last week.

The 23-year-old Hernandez has not only been charged with the June 17 killing of his friend Odin Lloyd, but he is reportedly a suspect in two other homicides.

The news has been unsettling for many current and former NFL players.

“I’m sad and not stunned,” former University of Oklahoma and Ravens defensive tackle Martin Chase said. “Been following Aaron since his days at Florida. He has always been one foot in one foot out. This is where all pro athletes fail. They feel they can do their job and be a thug at the same time.”

If the charges and accusations about Hernandez prove true, the Patriots and the NFL won’t be able to brush aside the most recent public relations nightmare.

“Anytime someone is accused of murder it is a surprise,” an NFL scout who asked to remain anonymous said. “You would think that after the well documented troubles he had in college that he would not put himself in this type of situation.

“I didn’t scout Hernandez, but I remember character issues being discussed heavily. I never thought he would be accused of murder.”

This is not the first time a current NFL player has been charged with murder. In 2001, Rae Carruth (now Rae Lamar Wiggins) was found guilty of conspiring to murder the woman who was pregnant with his child. He was found guilty of conspiring to murder and is serving a sentence of at least 18 years. He is expected to be released in 2018.

Though Hernandez and Carruth are the extremes, the NFL might appear to have a systemic law-and-order issue given the recent rash of arrests.

 “There is what, about 1,800 players and 29 arrested,” Chase said. “There are a lot of good guys out there with just a few bad apples. The media overhypes it. The media is a funny business.”

Whether proven guilty or not, the NFL is hoping the Hernandez case will act as a cautionary tale for current and aspiring players.

“The change has to occur when athletes are younger,” the NFL scout said. “Athletes must be held accountable from an early age so the sense of entitlement isn’t there when they are older.

“Choosing smart leads to a reward. Making poor choices leads to hurt and pain. When you make poor choices, there is always something or someone whose job is to make life miserable when you make poor choices.”

Michael Kinney is a reporter for The Norman (Okla.) Transcript.

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