New England Patriots Don’t Need to Keep Explaining Aaron Hernandez Situation

Pats Can't Be Held Responsible for Hernandez's Off-Field Actions

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY| The New England Patriots, much like their fans, are no doubt still reeling from the recent arrest of their star tight end Aaron Hernandez on charges including murder. Although the team immediately released him, they have continued to face questions regarding his situation. Despite the enormous amount of morbid curiosity surrounding the case, the Patriots don't owe any further explanation than what they have already provided.

Some, like The Boston Globe's Eric Wilbur, questioned why New England didn't speak out about Hernandez from the beginning. However, the team has done more than enough to address the matter as best they can since everything started unfolding.

In addition to the murder arrest, Hernandez has been linked to an earlier double homicide investigation and other violent acts. The obvious urge is to get to the bottom of his alleged involvement, and if he is culpable, understand how the 23-year-old rising star fell so far.

New England owner Robert Kraft recently went on the record about his disgraced former player after weeks of relative silence from the team. He told ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss that the Patriots would feel "duped" by the tight end if the charges are proven true. He also insisted Hernandez was a model citizen during his time with the Patriots, and never gave any indication he was capable of his alleged crimes.

The Patriots made other powerful statements without actually saying anything. They released Hernandez the same afternoon he was arrested. They also arranged a jersey swap, so fans who had shelled out money for his No. 81 could exchange it for the jersey of a different player. An estimated 2,500 jerseys were exchanged, costing the team around $250,000.

Curiosity more than anything seems to be driving the call for the Patriots to continue providing explanations. The biggest question seems to be how Hernandez passed muster with the Patriots if he is as vile a person as the allegations suggest.

Hernandez fell to the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 draft because of character concerns, which included possible failed drug tests for marijuana while playing for the University of Florida, and speculation he had gang ties as a high school student in Bristol, Connecticut. For some, his selection was a violation of the "Patriot Way," which has been the team's public emphasis on character and discipline during the tenure of Kraft.

The owner explained why his team took a chance on Hernandez, showing ESPN Boston a letter the tight end wrote before the draft indicating the lengths he was willing to go to prove he would not have any issues with drug use; specifically marijuana if given a chance.

The Boston Globe's Ben Volin confirmed Kraft's assertions that Hernandez was an exemplary member of the Patriots as a player. He also reported Hernandez didn't fail any drug tests while in New England. The team may have privately had concerns with those he associated with off the field, but how much could they have delved into his personal life if he wasn't causing any trouble? In the absence of actual problems, it wasn't their responsibility to monitor him off the field.

During his first three seasons with the Patriots, Hernandez caught 175 passes for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns, while earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2011. In addition to never having any legal problems, he was known for his work ethic and steady growth as a player.

New England obviously felt confident enough about Hernandez as a player and as a person that they gave him a five year, $37.5 million extension last year.

The NFL is filled with players who either were troubled as youngsters and/or have had brushes with the law as professionals. If Hernandez checked out with the Patriots during the draft and years leading up to his extension, hindsight cannot be used to assign the team any sort of culpability.

NBC Sports' Mike Florio is calling for teams to be stripped of draft picks if they gamble on troubled players who end up running afoul of the law after being signed. Such an idea is reactionary and heavy-handed. Like any other employer, NFL teams should be able to hire who they wish if they are comfortable with their credentials. Hernandez's case is an outlier that shouldn't prevent players from receiving second chances, especially since the majority of their transgressions are coming as immature high school and college kids.

The charges of violence are solely on Hernandez and any potential confederates. If he is found responsible, his guilt cannot be transferred to the Patriots any more than any other typical business has to take responsibility if one of their employees commits a terrible crime.

The Patriots have already taken significant steps in addressing the situation through their words and actions. They don't owe any further explanation or response than they have already provided. The questions that should be answered are those that will be addressed by Hernandez and his lawyers in his upcoming trial.

In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.

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