Patriots fans stood outside of Bristol County Superior Court on Thursday, some sporting their No. 81 jerseys and others pulling their dark blue Patriots hats down over their eyes to shield the sun in hopes of catching a glimpse of Aaron Hernandez.
As the doors of the milk-white Bristol County Sheriff’s van slammed shut behind a solemn and subdued Hernandez and drove away from the courthouse on Thursday, those same fans began to harmonize with the word “innocent” hot on their lips. They chanted so loudly, it’s as if they were celebrating one of Hernandez’s many touchdowns inside Gillette Stadium.
Hernandez, who was suited up in his new dark-green prison uniform and tightly gripped handcuffs, had just been denied bail for the second — yup, second — time. He was going back to Bristol County House of Corrections on charges that included first-degree murder. Yet, people were still too disillusioned by their fandom to see.
One female fan stood tall and shouted, “We love you, Aaron,” staring off and smiling as if someone would hear her and suddenly this mess would go away. But it won’t, at least not for a long time — if ever.
Now, the general standard in America calls for all accused parties to be viewed as “innocent until proven guilty.” Hernandez and his supporters have that right, but that doesn’t change the facts. So, let’s go over them again real quick.
So, where do we stand now?
Hernandez is in Bristol County prison and, barring any unforeseen breaks in the case, will stay there until his trial begins sometime next year. He’s lost his job with the Patriots and is all but barred from playing in the NFL again, pending the outcome of his trial, of course. It’s not to say he is guilty or won’t play in the NFL again, but, let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s not looking too good.
Fans who feel compelled to rally around him and remain optimistic should continue to do so. You have every right, and Lord knows he could use some support. But we need to remember that this case is bigger than Aaron Hernandez and bigger than football.
One way or another, Odin Lloyd lost his life just over 10 days ago. His family and friends still have to deal with that tragedy, no matter Hernandez’s outcome in court or the Patriots’ out on the field.
Sure, it’s still shocking to imagine Hernandez in anything but his popular No. 81 jersey or some Patriots garb when his face pops up on television or around the internet. It’s mind-boggling to think he may have been somehow involved in one murder, never mind three. And Patriots fans definitely won’t like it when another player finally trots out on the field at Gillette wearing 81 on his back and a name other than Hernandez’s sits perched above it.
Letting go is never easy. It’s even harder when it comes to idols and heroes, as Hernandez was for many in the New England area. But, when it comes to life and death, all of that blind love and those overlooked faults can’t be ignored anymore.
Evidence shows that Hernandez has an apparent affinity for guns, potential gang ties, and he’s even charged with killing another man. Simply put, he is not a role model.
So, while there is still a chance that Hernandez is “innocent,” on the street outside of his bail hearing is not the time, place or forum for such public politicking.
The Patriots have parted ways with Hernandez once and for all, and now it’s time for the rest of the Patriots fan base to follow suit. There should be no ill will or hard feelings. Feel free to remember the good times and to hope for the best. But Hernandez has his own path to walk now, and the Patriots are no longer a part of it.
It’s time to move on.