When my son was born during the 2010 NFL Season, I would joke that Aaron Hernandez was his favorite Patriot. I thought Hernandez was a fitting choice for him since they had a lot in common, seeing as he was both the youngest player in the league at the time and Hispanic. However, during the 2011 season, I often wondered if I had picked the wrong player for Luke to have as "his guy". After all, Hernandez had a bit of a bad rap coming out of college, has tons of tats, and while he had a good outing last year, his play on the field paled in comparison to that of fellow tight end, Rob Gronkowski. Would Gronk have been a better choice to have my son look up to during his formative years of Patriots fandom?
After a fair amount of press for shirtless dancing and parties with adult film stars, it became clear to me that Gronkowski was not a great choice either. Still, I wasn't completely sold on Hernandez. I didn't have a good feel for his character, there was some questions about his durability, and I wasn't sure if the Pats would be able to retain him long-term given the large deal they doled out to Gronk. When we made a family sojourn to Foxboro this past summer, I was having a tough time deciding whether to buy Luke his second Brady jersey, or to go with a Hernandez. (As it would turn out, the only options for 1 year olds in the Pro Shop were Brady or Gronkowski jerseys, so Luke will be rocking #12 for the third year in a row.)
Don't get me wrong, there was never anything "bad" about Aaron Hernandez. I just wasn't sure that he should be my son's "guy". I didn't have a firm reason to back him over a guy like Tom Brady, or Wes Welker, or Vince, or Mayo...
That is, until now. I was very happy when I heard the news that the Patriots had inked Hernandez to a long-term deal, for obvious reasons. However, I became ecstatic when I heard how he reacted to the news of becoming a multi-millionaire.
"One of the touching moments since I've owned the team -- knowing that this is our charitable gala tonight -- Aaron came into my office, a little teary-eyed, and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund. I said 'Aaron, you don't have to do this, you've already got your contract.' And he said 'No, it makes me feel good and I want to do it." - Robert Kraft
"He changed my life. Now I'm able to basically have a good chance to be set for life, and have a good life. I have a daughter on the way, I have a family that I love. It's just knowing that they're going to be OK. Because I was happy playing for my two hundred fifty, four hundred thousand [dollar salary]. Knowing that my kids and my family will be able to have a good life, go to college, it's just an honor that he did that for me. He gave me this opportunity. The $50,000 to help his foundation, obviously, is basically like saying 'thank you' and its means a lot to me.
"He didn't need to give me the amount that he gave me, and knowing that he thinks I deserve that, he trusts me to make the right decisions, it means a lot. It means he trusts my character, and the person I am, which means a lot, cause my mother, that's how she wanted to raise me. They have to trust you to give you that money. I just feel a lot of respect and I owe it back to him. Not only is it $50,000, cause that's not really, that's just the money that really doesn't mean much, with the amount given, it's more, I have a lot more to give back, and all I can do is play my heart out for them, make the right decisions, and live life as a Patriot." - Aaron Hernandez
Over the years, we've seen countless athletes cash in on their big payday. However, I can't remember a single one that showed the humility and character that Aaron Hernandez just displayed. I am sure that there are many others who have taken a moment to "give back" after inking their multi-million dollar deals, and I'm sure there are plenty of athletes who have shown the same amount of class. But for whatever reason, none seemed to make the impression that Aaron Hernandez just left on me. Perhaps it's the link to my son that makes this a little more special, or the way I went from doubting Hernandez only to end up being totally floored about how wrong my misconceptions were. But whatever the reason, there is no doubting that the Patriots, who have a decade-worth of things to be proud about, now have one more person we can all take pride in through 2018.