Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

Did the NFL Cause a Murder?

Former New England Patriots’ tight end, Aaron Hernandez.
Photo by Jeffrey Beall, Wikimedia Commons

A weekly column by Ross Dubberly 

Whom do you hold responsible for bad behavior? Oddly enough, the answer you give to that question bespeaks a great deal about your ideological sympathies. That is to say, though it is not well-known, there is a great ideological divide on the issue of whom we should hold accountable for ill-advised behavior.

Readers will recall the sad case of Aaron Hernandez, the injudicious former New England Patriots' tight end, who, through a series of abysmally bad choices, ruined the lives of many, including his own. Hernandez was a superstar at the University of Florida and later became a go-to for Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady. But in 2013, less than a year after Hernandez had signed a $40 million contract with the Pats, a jogger discovered the body of Odin Lloyd, one of Hernandez’s friends, in a gravel pit on John Dietsch Boulevard in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.

Hernandez was later tried for the murder of his friend, found guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Subsequently, in the spring of 2014, The state of Massachusetts charged Hernandez for a double homicide committed in 2012. But Hernandez was acquitted of this charge on April 14, 2017. Days later, Hernandez took a bed sheet, tied a noose, and hanged himself from his cell window. His suicide was a sad end to a sad, incredibly wasted life. But, remember, Hernandez was not in jail for nothing.

Nevertheless, a recent New York Times article seems to subtly, but not inconspicuously, raise the question of whether we truly can hold Hernandez responsible for his actions. Despite being only 27 when he killed himself, “[A] posthumous examination of [Hernandez’s] brain showed he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.” In other words, Hernandez had brain damage from football. Not surprising, right? What, you may be asking, is so controversial about that, Ross? Permit me to proceed.

The Times goes on:

"[T]he results of the study of Mr. Hernandez’s brain are adding another dimension to his meteoric rise and fall that could raise questions about the root of his erratic, violent behavior and lead to a potentially tangled legal fight with the N.F.L., the most powerful sports league in the United States."

The article then takes note of the federal suit--which seeks compensation to Hernandez’s daughter for damages--that Hernandez’s estate filed against the NFL and the New England Patriots. “The suit alleges,” the Times writes, “that the league and the team knew that repeated head hits could lead to brain disease, yet did not do enough to protect Mr. Hernandez from those hits.”

Incidentally, I would like to ask the New York Times and the ambulance-chasing lawyer of Aaron Hernandez’s estate, Jose Baez, the following questions: Did Aaron Hernandez not know about the dangers of football? Was he unaware that brain damage is frequently a result of participation in football, especially at the collegiate and professional levels? As far as I know, the NFL and New England Patriots require players to wear their helmets during practices and games; thus, what more could they have done? And did anyone force Mr. Hernandez to accept that $40 million contract to catch passes from Tom Brady?

The subject of the lawsuit, perhaps, is deserving of its own column; however, it is not, in my judgment, the most disturbing aspect of this Times piece.

"The trauma to Mr. Hernandez’s brain raises fresh questions about the danger of football…The fact that Mr. Hernandez also led a troubled life off the field will complicate the N.F.L.’s efforts to calm jitters about the sport because it will probably make some people wonder whether football had a role in his violence away from the game [emphasis added]."

The Times’ insinuation is obvious: The brain damage Aaron Hernandez suffered from football was the root-cause of his violence and, perhaps, even the murder of his friend.

Another incidental element I find interesting in this piece is the sophistry in which the New York Times is engaged. Concretely, the Times writes as if CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) necessitates violence and perhaps even murder. But the overwhelming majority of people with CTE do not murder people. In fact, Junior Seau, cited in the very same Times article as an additional example of former NFL players with CTE, was once described by the San Diego Union-Tribune as “arguably the most generous--and the most successful--philanthropic athlete in San Diego history.” More concisely, if CTE compels people to murder, why is it, then, that the overwhelming majority of former NFL players with the disease are not, in fact, murderers?

There is no answer to that. But this New York Times article is a locus classicus of a bigger, more broadly held belief on the Left: People are not responsible for their bad behavior--outside forces are. If a poor individual robs a store, it is because of poverty. If a black individual has a baby out of wedlock, it is because of societal racism. If a radical Muslim blows up a pizza parlor, it is because of Western Islamophobia. And if an NFL tight end murders his friend, it turns out, football, and specifically the NFL, is responsible for that, too.

This is a fundamental difference between the Right and the Left. The Right blames bad behavior on human nature and poor values; the Left blames bad behavior on society. The implications of this difference are huge. For the Right, to make a better world the individual must make himself better. For the Left, however, to make a better world the individual must make society better.

It is precisely this desire to improve society that leads the Left to lust for the transformation of society--even a magnificent one like America. And it is that lust that makes the Left so utterly destructive and dangerous.

—Ross Dubberly is the Book Editor at The Arch Conservative.

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