Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A million small tragedies

Aaron Hernandez died by his own hand in the skinny hours this morning, hanging himself in his prison cell on the day the football team for which he played in another life was scheduled to visit the White House.

The juxtaposition isn't as stark as it sounds. First of all, any connection Hernandez had with the New England Patriots ended a long time ago. Secondly, it was never that hard-wired anyway, except for the numbers he put up for them.

Aaron Hernandez, after all, was one scary dude. Even in the testosterone factory that is an NFL locker room, he scared people. A lot of his teammates, it's been reported more than once, steered clear of him.

They had good reason, because Hernandez was a bad man who did bad things. He killed a man named Odin Lloyd for no reason that makes sense to rational humans. And he was just acquitted of killing two more men in a dispute over, of all things, a spilled drink.

A man who would do that -- and there are plenty of people who still think he did it, despite the acquittal -- is not the sort of man upon whom you waste tears. And yet maybe in some context you should.

Not for Aaron Hernandez, mind you. For the fact that we'll frame his dark story as a tragedy without acknowledging the million other small tragedies that happen every day, and of which we never hear.

Hernandez' descent from innocent childhood to a fate of his own making will get some run because he was once a fabulously skilled tight end, and sports -- football in particular -- have an outsized place in our national consciousness. But he is hardly the only man doing a life stretch for murder who's decided to cut the sentence short with a knotted bedsheet. There are dozens of others who've done the same thing, and thousands more who once had the same promise we all have as human beings, and who chose the dark pathways instead.

The prisons, after all, are full of them. Like Hernandez himself, it's unlikely they set out to be bad people. Like Hernandez, they were at one time children with the same potential for good all children own as their birthright.

And yet if that's true, it's also true some of those children never get a chance to fulfill that potential. Only the lucky ones do, the ones who are born into loving families or who find, at some crucial point, someone who sees something in them and shows them the way.

The unlucky ones become Aaron Hernandez.

Who at least was a superb athlete. And who, in that sense, was still far more lucky than all of those who were never quite as good at catching footballs.

You want to talk about tragedies today?

Start with those.

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