Aaron Hernandez and Urban Meyer

Win at all CostsFor my followers who are not sports fans there is a terrible story making headlines in the National Football League (NFL) these days. A player in the league is accused of premeditated murder. That he killed one of his friends reportedly because that friend was talking to some other people.

The case is in its infancy and guilt or innocence will not be determined for a long time so I’m not going to get into the particulars of the incident. Likewise there is much talk about the violent tendencies of NFL players but statistical analysis seem to indicate that professional athletes, football players included, are no more criminally inclined than the rest of the nation, actually less so.

What I do want to talk about is the culture of winning that pervades college and pro athletics. The responsibility a coach has when one of their players commits crimes, particular violent crimes. In this case the player in question, Aaron Hernandez, was coached at the University of Florida by Urban Meyer. There were apparently a number of incidents at Florida that put a question to Hernandez’s character, and more importantly to the NFL, his potential to be a great player instead of a public relations nightmare.

Meyer told Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots that Hernandez was worth drafting although he was drafted well below his ability level, likely because of his off-field problems. Meyer has said that it is wrong and irresponsible to connect either he or the University of Florida to the misbehavior of Hernandez.

I strongly disagree. I will not lay the blame squarely on Meyer, Belichick, Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft, the University of Florida, the NCAA, or the NFL but there is certainly a connection. People with special ability in the sporting world are given chance after chance that other people do not get. They are entitled, coddled, favored, and allowed to behave badly without consequence again and again.

Here in St. Louis we drafted an extremely talented cornerback named Janoris Jenkins with a troubled past including failed drug tests and an arrest in a nightclub fight.

It angers me when I hear Meyer instantly dismiss any responsibility in the situation. Not only dismiss responsibility but actually attack anyone who dares suggest that he might have done something to prevent the situation. Meyer could have kicked Hernandez off the team, as Meyer’s successor Will Muschamp did to Jenkins almost immediately upon taking over as head coach at Florida.

It can be argued that Jenkins was a far more talented player than Hernandez. That Muschamp’s decision to kick Jenkins off the team was a much more damaging move than would have been removing Hernandez.

So far Jenkins has been a relatively trouble-free in St. Louis. He missed a curfew and Coach Jeff Fisher suspended him for one game. That’s what I’m talking about here today. That’s my point. Muschamp made Jenkins responsible for his actions. Fisher made Jenkins responsible for his actions. Apparently Meyer and Belichick did not do the same for Hernandez.

Who is ultimately responsible for our own actions? We are. Hernandez is. Jenkins is. But so is Meyer. He allowed Hernandez to continue to play and recommended him to the NFL. Personal responsibility doesn’t mean blaming everyone else when you make a mistake in judgment.

Meyer could have said that he understood Hernandez had problems. He tried to help. He wanted the best for the young man and gave him chances with that in mind. Instead he chooses to deny all responsibility. To bury his head in the sand and avoid any consequences to his actions. A terrible role-model, a terrible person.

I’m not blaming Meyer for Hernandez, I’m blaming Meyer for Meyer. Taking responsibility doesn’t always mean taking the credit when things go well. Personal responsibility means accepting consequences, or at least scrutiny, when things go wrong.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for hours of reading pleasure)
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7 thoughts on “Aaron Hernandez and Urban Meyer

  1. The coach is responsible for his player’s actions when on the field. He is responsible for dealing with the off field actions as placed in the players contract. A troubled past does not always mean a person can’t be helped. If he knew that the murder was going to occur then yes, he holds some of the blame. I know people who as young adults/teens had problems. They were given chances and turned things around. They could have just as easily not done that. Would it have been their employers fault for having given them a chance?

    • Thank you for the comment, Alex.

      I disagree with your premise that the coach, particularly a college coach, is only responsible for on-field actions and those specified by a contract in the pros. College coaches, in particular, proudly talk about how they are far more than a coach to these athletes, they help a young man grow into an adult, they are their surrogate parent in college. Athletes often references their coaches in such terms.

      As I stated in my post my complaint with Meyer isn’t Hernandez’s subsequent actions but his own absolute denial of any possibility that his lack of discipline might have contributed to these problems. A parent disciplines a child, a coach disciplines a player. When such discipline is lacking can we not lay some of the child’s problems at their feet? Certainly, as I stated in the blog, the child or player is responsible for their own actions in the end. However, the parent or coach cannot pretend that said actions cannot possibly stem from the lessons taught by the parent or coach.

      This is Meyer’s position. That it is unfair, ludicrous, and irresponsible to suggest that Meyer’s coddling of Hernandez is any way responsible for the murders. I say we should at least examine Hernandez’s time at Florida and the apparent lack of discipline therein.

      Tom

  2. If the coach were a teacher would you hold them responsible for the actions of their students? I am proud to say that I feel I have been a good role model for my students. I have tried to teach by example. Does that mean that I should be held accountable for the action of some of my less than stellar students? Do we know for a fact that the coach didn’t try to discipline or mentor his player? If he did was he backed by the university, and alumni? Finally when do we bring the family of the player into the equation?

    • If your student, before the first class, beat up another kid and wasn’t disciplined, if he was questioned by the principal in the murder of two other students and wasn’t disciplined, if he failed a drug test and was forced to sit in the corner for ten minutes, yes, I think you should face some scrutiny.

      I wrote in my blog post, multiple times, that we are all responsible for our own actions. That my problem was that Meyer refused to consider even the suggestion that his actions should be scrutinized.

      If I were to take your argumentative strategy I would say: “Do you think under no circumstances should a teacher ever be scrutinized for the behavior of their student?”

      My argument, from the beginning, was not that the coach should be held responsible. My argument, from the beginning, was that when a coach fails to discipline a player for violent acts then it is fair, not irresponsible, to look at the coach’s actions.

      Tom

  3. I agree that actions taken in school need to be dealt with in school. I can’t, however discipline students for things they do outside of school and off of school property. Did the player in question fail a drug test during his time there? If so what is the school’s policy? The same for beating up another person. Where did it occur, what is the policy for such things? Lastly was he proven guilty of murder? I find it too easy to place blame on other people. I do find that athletes get special treatment, but that is a whole different problem.

  4. Pingback: The Relationship between Coach and Athlete | tomliberman

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