Remember Aaron Hernandez?
(No, it’s still not raining around here, but it is overcast and the temperature is only in the high sixties, so, close enough. Decline of civilization, here we come.)
A quick memory refresher for anyone who doesn’t want to read the post I linked up there: Aaron Hernandez was a football player. In June of 2013, he was charged with murder. Immediately after his arrest, before the charges were announced, his team, the New England Patriots, terminated his contract, removed as much evidence that he had ever been on the team as they could, and issued a statement that essentially says “He was arrested, so getting rid of him is the right thing to do.”
Last month, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Clearly, this shows that the Patriots’ actions were fully justified. Being accused of a crime is clear evidence of guilt, right? And no morally-upright person would want to be in any way associated with such a villain, right?
Apparently the Patriots’ views are more nuanced than that.
In January of 2015, the Patriots and their star quarterback, Tom Brady, were accused of using under-inflated footballs. Let’s be clear: using a football softer than the required standard might give you a competitive advantage. I doubt anyone but the most rabid football fan would consider it in any way equivalent to murder. In brief, it’s an ethical violation, but not a federal offense.
But in Hernandez’ case, the Patriots framed his immediate firing, well before his guilt was established, as an ethical decision. So when Brady was accused of cheating, shouldn’t they have immediately terminated his contract, removed all Brady-related merchandise from the team store, and considered themselves well-shut of another villain?
Apparently not. They chose to support Brady and backed his denial of any involvement in the scandal–or even that there was a scandal.
The NFL completed its investigation earlier this month. They found Brady guilty of (my paraphrase) requesting and using under-inflated footballs. He was suspended without pay for the first four games of the season. They also identified two non-playing employees of the Patriots organization, John Jastremski and James McNally, as the people who actually let air out of the balls. The Patriots voluntarily suspended both men without pay indefinitely, and will only reinstate them if the NFL tells them to.
So Brady has been officially found morally deficient. Have the Patriots cut him loose yet? Don’t be silly. They’ve denied the validity of the evidence that Brady was involved, denied that the balls were too soft, and are assisting Brady in his appeal. McNally and Jastremski apparently don’t qualify for an appeal.
So what’s the difference between a Brady–who committed his crimes on the job–and a Hernandez, whose illegal actions were carried out when he was off duty? It can’t just be the nature of the crime: remember that the Patriots severed ties with Hernandez before the reason for his arrest was announced. Nor can we attribute it all to the players’ value to the team: Hernandez didn’t have Brady’s long record as a star, but in his three seasons with the Patriots, he produced star-quality statistics–good enough for the Patriots to give him the second-largest contract extension in NFL history.
Is it completely unreasonable of me to suspect that the key difference is that Brady is white and Hernandez is not? (Hint: I haven’t used the word “thug”, but that bastion of journalistic integrity Rolling Stone did.)