BREAKING NEWS: Aaron Hernandez Still Innocent
Hernandez still awaits his day in court. (Photo: Reuters / Mike George)
In America, you are innocent until proven guilty-unless you're a heavily tattooed, young minority accused of murder.
Pop quiz: What do Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, Derek Jeter, and Aaron Hernandez have in common? They have never been convicted of a crime. All of them have clean rap sheets. Different personalities and different levels of respect, sure. But in the supposed "Land of the Free, Home of the Brave," the media, the New England Patriots organization, and the general public are treating Aaron Hernandez unfairly.
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In the weeks following the arrest of Hernandez, character issues, failed drug tests, and past brushes with the law have led to the 23-year-old being convicted in the court of public opinion for various murders spanning the Eastern Seaboard.
I'm half-expecting to hear Ed Warner tell me one morning that Hernandez is rumored to be involved in the disappearance of JonBenet Ramsey, or that the missing 18 minutes of the Watergate tapes have been discovered in his house next to a letter from Fidel Castro contracting him to shoot John F. Kennedy. Unable to refute accusations and rumors from a jail cell, the tight end out of Florida is the defenseless receiver that Roger Goodell has worked so hard to protect on the field, but who is vulnerable to vicious attacks from opponents off of it.
In fairness, the circumstantial evidence available to the general public does not look good for Hernandez. The 23-year-old is no Boy Scout. In fact, he seems like a less than stellar individual. But in America, we have this thing called due process. Every citizen accused of a crime has a right to their day in court. A guilty verdict would not be especially shocking to anyone at this point. But in a country that failed to convict Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson, it is wrong to assume the guilt of anyone, let alone someone with a clean record.
The Patriots released Aaron Hernandez less than two hours after being arrested. Before he could even be charged, the talented Connecticut native was out of a job. The American History nerd in me saw irony in an organization named after the Founding Fathers not waiting for their employee to extend his Constitutional right to a trial before terminating his employment.
Make no mistake, I understand the Kraft family and Bill Belichick wanting to wash their hands of Hernandez. I get distancing onesself from an apparent bad apple. Encouraging your fans to turn in his jersey for a player perceived to be more wholesome and family friendly makes sense. Casting Hernandez as the villain, and letting fans throw rocks at him may help fans forget that Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Lloyd are no longer in Foxboro, and that Rob Gronkowski just had his fifth surgery since November. But as a minority, a young person, an American, and a human being, the public evisceration of Hernandez, and the presumption of guilt of someone with a trial still pending is sickening.