Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: The Terrible Waste of Aaron Hernandez

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling books Roar No More: Tiger Woods’ Epic Fall From Grace and Roar Once More: Tiger Woods’ Epic Return to the Top. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! 

Aaron_HernandezAs a sportswriter, I find myself shaking my head quite often. I’m pretty good at it, if I do say myself. In fact, I teach an intensive course at the community college on the practice, with some extra pointers on finger wagging and one-sentence paragraphs.

But even an experienced head shaker such as myself could scarcely figure out how best to shake my head at the news that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had been arrested for murder. Should I go for the stern paternal head shake? Or the sympathetic but disappointed head shake? This was a conundrum that I wouldn’t wish on any of my fellow sportswriters, one that no class could truly prepare you for. Although I will speak to the dean about adding such a class to next semester’s docket, assuming he’s not still mad at me for destroying three rows of bleachers in the gym. (Long story short: I accidentally spilled an entire thermos of my special blend of Diet Mr. Pibb and puréed Suzy Q’s, which apparently does a real number on lacquer.)

In the end, I determined that Hernandez deserved some completely new sort of head shake, one that has yet to be invented. (Note to self: Attempt to invent it, then feel out dean for third class?) Because what he did goes beyond inexcusable. Aaron Hernandez destroyed something that no person has the right to take away from from anyone: an NFL season.

Each of us is given a fragile, wonderful gift in this world, and that is 17 weeks of regular season football, plus three more of playoffs and two glorious weeks for the Super Bowl. No matter what “beef” Aaron Hernandez had with this other person whose name escapes me, he can not take it upon himself to play god and say “I will determine whether the Patriots’ season lives or dies.”

Now, New England is bereft of a tight end. Two, maybe, if Rob Gronkowski can’t be ready for the start of the season. Even if Belichick pulls things together and crafts a winning season out of this wreckage, he and his staff will have to answer constant questions about murder and other things that have nothing to do with football. If Hernandez had taken a moment to consider this, he might have thought twice about killing a man in cold blood.

It’s not up to mere mortals like Aaron Hernandez to take away something so precious as a tight end from the NFL. Determinations like these must come from something more ethereal and unknowable, something beyond ourselves. Call it God, or fate, appearing the form of a 350-pound linebacker out of his mind on painkillers.

We’ve all been in situations like these, where we were so filled with rage we contemplated doing something rash. I remember when I heard Twinkies were discontinued, the thought of a world without Twinkies filled me with such a burning nihilism that I hurled a brick through one of the front windows of my local Publix. But as my lawyer explained to me, sometimes things have a way of working out for the best, even if we can’t see how this could be possible at the time.

As it turned out, my lawyer was right! Now Twinkies are back and only several thousand people lost their jobs. My lawyer also advised me that Publix had nothing to do with Hostess’s bankruptcy, and I would probably be better off not driving around with loose bricks in my car. (I would if I could, but I need that ballast to deal with the wonky rear differential in my Kia.)

So to Aaron Hernandez, I can say I’ve been there. I too took the law into my own hands, and as a result I almost deprived the world of my column and my weekly guest spots on Dish Nation. I was able to keep my freedom thanks to many hours of community service and a carefully crafted apology letter. In the end, I learned that it’s not up to us to make our own justice, whether that involves hurling bricks through plate glass windows or an execution-style shooting in an open field.

It’s possible that Hernandez may have to endure harsher punishment than I did. But in truth, his crime is the kind that punishes us all, because it deprives each and every one of us of seeing an NFL team perform at its best. And it reminds us of the true fragility of a football season, of how easily it can be taken away from us. I hope everyone one of you hugs your pocket schedule a little tighter tonight. I know I will.

Some may say a transgression like this can never be forgiven. They are entitled to that opinion. I’m not quite willing to go that far, but I will say that forgiveness can only follow a true act of penance, like beating the rap on a technicality and coming back to the NFL to perform at peak levels again. This crime can not be redeemed by the halfway contrition of a man like Michael Vick, who returned to the game but has only occasionally played well since coming back.

This season is beyond saving, but perhaps his example will prevent other players from making the same, tragic waste in the future, and remind them that every season is equally precious.