Pay Aaron Hernandez, dead or alive
It’s April 2010, you’re a red-blooded American, so of course you’re watching the NFL Draft. Whether it’s at a bar or on your couch, the only requirement is that there is beer, and plenty of it, because your team is about to make a pick that will either repeat a championship run, or begin one. On this night, we’re in the fourth round, and the New England Patriots are on the clock for the 113th overall pick, and all the prospects who remain undrafted are likely sweating bullets. For University of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez and his family, this is a dream come true as he’s about to be drafted, and a sign that everything would be alright and that the hard times were over. Or so they thought.
On June 26, 2013 Hernandez was arrested at his home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts for the murder of Odin Lloyd and was released by the Patriots a week later. He was charged with first-degree murder and was eventually convicted on August 22, 2013 and sentenced to life without parole. He was also charged, but acquitted of, the double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. But despite beginning the appeal of his murder conviction, Hernandez was found dead by suicide in his cell the morning of April 19, 2017.
The aftermath of Hernandez’s arrest is still being felt to this day by the NFL and New England Patriots due to the money left on Hernandez’s contract. Hernandez signed a five-year, $40 million extension on August 27, 2012 that carried a $12.5 million signing bonus. The Patriots withheld all of Hernandez’s salary for 2015-2018 because that money was not guaranteed. However, the Patriots are still withholding $3.25 million of Hernandez’s signing bonus as well as his $82,000 workout bonus for 2013. New England and the NFL claim that Hernandez’s actions and arrest were detrimental to the team and the league, therefore the money should be withheld so the Patriots can recoup their monetary loss.
But here’s the thing: In 10 out of 10 situations in which morals and ethics are on the line, the NFL gets it wrong every time. Remember Michael Vick, the then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback who went to jail for dog fighting? The Falcons wanted to recover $20 million of the $37 million bonus they had given VIck, but Vick and his lawyers won the dispute case and only paid $6.5 million back. They argued that because the wording of the contract said the money was guaranteed and “could not be withheld under any circumstances,” Vick was entitled to all of the bonus. Because of that ruling, Vick was able to pay off the tremendous debt (some of which was to the Falcons and NFL) he had amassed while in jail.
Hernandez is in the same boat. His signing bonus is guaranteed and his workout bonus was too, so that money should go to him. Now, he may no longer be with us, but his four-year-old daughter Avielle Janelle Jenkins-Hernandez is, and she has every legal right to be paid that money since her mother Shayanna Jenkins was not actually married to Hernandez. Of course, the NFL doesn’t want to give either woman the money, because they need to protect their assets as well. The NFL may be a business, but that’s not a good enough excuse to be selfish, especially since the NFL generates around $13 billion a year.
Also, Hernandez is believed to have been affected by onset symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which the NFL has faced multiple lawsuits over for denying the link between concussions sustained during the game and CTE development. If Hernandez did have CTE, then he might not have been completely sane during the murders he committed. Now, he has the chance to be posthumously acquitted of his murder conviction, which should basically guarantee his complete payment of his contract.
Hernandez may or may not have killed those men, but regardless, the families all got some form of justice as Hernandez is now dead. But now it’s time for Avielle to get her justice as well — $3.33 million worth of justice.
Hernandez didn’t hold up his end, neither should the Pats
After being acquitted of double-murder just days earlier with an appeal for his other murder charge in progress, Aaron Hernandez, former tight end of the NFL’s New England Patriots, committed suicide in his jail cell on April 19, 2017. The timing of this suicide seemed odd to many, as he just made significant progress toward being acquitted of his murder charges and returning home to his family. He reportedly had a long conversation with his wife before he passed, demonstrating that he still held a connection and desire to interact with his family. However, according to a long-standing Massachusetts law called “abatement ab initio,” if a defendant is unable to appear in court during an appeals process, then that appeal is vacated. With this law wiping away the 2013 Odin Lloyd conviction, in conjunction with the acquittal he received on April 19, Hernandez’s criminal record is completely clean. With that, the deferred bonuses that Hernandez would have received for signing his contract extension are now legally owed to him, but the Patriots should not pay him for exploiting the law.
Considering the circumstances surrounding the clearance of Hernandez’s record, the Patriots have all the reasons in the world to withhold the signing bonus that is legally owed to him. While it is true that Hernandez left behind a fiance and young daughter, the Patriots should not be forced to support them because of some obsolete legal obligations. Hernandez did not uphold his side of the agreement as of June 26, 2013 by being arrested and absent from the team despite being under contract, so the Patriots should not be forced to pay a signing bonus that is only built to protect players who actually play.
First, paying Hernandez’s family this bonus would be detrimental to the idea and image of the signing bonus. Unlike baseball and basketball, the short-term and long-term injury risk in football is high in every play, and there is scientific proof that football contact is linked to long-term debilitating injury, as demonstrated by the chronic traumatic encephalopathy fiasco that has unfolded in the NFL over the past 15 years. As a result of this quality, the NFL operates with another unique system that makes a signing bonus necessary: Non-guaranteed salaries. The signing bonus is meant to give financial security to a player even if a player loses their non-guaranteed salary due to a career-altering injury, and it is nullified if the player violates his contract. Hernandez had done just that when he was incarcerated, which means he shouldn’t get the money.
That brings up the issue of Hernandez’s conviction itself, which has been the reason that all of this talk is relevant in the first place. Rewarding someone for escaping a conviction through suicide demonstrates explicit exploitation of both federal and NFL rules. The law itself is trivial and doesn’t seem to have a great deal of worthwhile use besides cases in which contracts are involved, and there is one glaring fact here that should stand out as this case is deliberated. Hernandez had already been convicted of murder and remained in jail long before this happened.
There was no controversy surrounding this case before Hernandez’s suicide because of the clarity of his conviction and his behavior in prison not showing any sort of progress toward change. For some reason, his status as a murderer is only up in the air now because of his own suicide, not because there is any doubt that he is a criminal. For the sake of protecting the integrity of both the Massachusetts court system and NFL guaranteed money, the Patriots should not be forced to pay Hernandez’s estate a single cent.
At the end of the day, Hernandez did not fulfill his side of the contract, so why should the Patriots?