Though New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has yet to be charged with a crime, a North Attleboro, MA, homicide investigation that appears to be focused on the player and his home has brought the his past decisions into question.
When New England selected Hernandez with the No. 113 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, it did so knowing he had plenty of red flags.
He had supposedly smoked marijuana and hung out with a bad crowd in high school. He got arrested as a 17-year-old freshman with the Florida Gators after he got into a fight with a bouncer at a bar. (Hernandez was charged as a juvenile and accepted deferred prosecution). He was also questioned in a 2008 shooting in Gainesville, FL, though he spoke with police as a potential eyewitness and not a suspect, a fact conveniently left out of many reports about the incident.
Most alarming for the Patriots and other NFL teams, however, was information they learned that was also contained in a report published by the Boston Globe shortly after Hernandez was drafted by New England.
The story, citing sources from three NFL teams that knew about Hernandez’s background and supposed problems at Florida, noted that he did not just fail a drug test in 2008 (which led to a one-game suspension, the only contest he missed during his three years with the Gators). Rather, a “longtime executive” claimed, Hernandez failed from 4-6 drug tests while at Florida and was not punished accordingly.
“He had multiple positive tests, so he either had issues or he’s dumb. One or two tests? Fine. But four, five, six? Come on, now you’ve got an addiction,” the NFL executive said.
Though the Gators did not address the Globe report at the time, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley did just that on Tuesday.
“The information from the NFL sources is wrong,” Foley told AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky. “The University of Florida follows its drug-testing policies. We do not deviate from our drug-testing policies for anyone. We never have, and we never will.”
Penalties assessed by the Gators for a football player testing positive for marijuana use include counseling for a first positive, mandatory one-game suspension for a second positive, mandatory two-game suspension for a third positive, mandatory six-game suspension for a fourth positive and mandatory indefinite suspension for a fifth positive.
However, Foley and Florida’s Substance Abuse Committee (appointed by school president Bernie Machen) are able to recommend those penalties be lessened or not carried out for any number of reasons. A student-athlete could be in great academic standing and committed to attending counseling for his issues, for example.
The Gators will not release the exact number of drug tests that Hernandez failed during his three years with the team, but team spokesman Steve McClain texted Scarbinsky that he “would go on record saying [Hernandez] didn’t fail six drug tests.”
Forget six failed tests. For Hernandez to miss the one game in 2008, he would have had to fail at least two tests, based on Florida’s policies. That is, of course, unless then-head coach Urban Meyer over-disciplined one of his players. McClain going on record that Hernandez did not fail six drug tests is one thing but what about three, four or five?
“We test more frequently than most if not all league schools and would rank very high nationally,” McClain also told AL.com. “Our athletes get tested once [each] semester they’re enrolled so most are getting tested four times a year minimum.”
The Gators are now involved in a he said, he said situation regarding Hernandez and his failed drug tests.
On one side, there is a report sourcing NFL executives that was not only accepted league-wide (hence his drop to the fourth round) but also somewhat confirmed by Hernandez who, according to Sports Illustrated, “admitted to NFL teams that he failed numerous drug tests prior to the 2010 NFL Draft.”
On the other, Florida has come out to denounce a three-year-old report in hopes of steering free from criticism while one of its former players is investigated for his potential role in a homicide.
In the end, the number of drug tests Hernandez failed during his three years in Gainesville has little to do with the poor decisions he has made over the last 10 days as a 23-year-old man and professional football player.