BU Today


Was Patriots’ Hernandez a Time Bomb?

BU’s Adam Naylor sees warning signs


With much yet to be revealed about Aaron Hernandez’s alleged role in the murder of acquaintance Odin L. Lloyd, fans are left wondering if there were warning signs that the NFL and the New England Patriots failed to pick up on. When the former Patriots tight end was arrested last Wednesday on murder charges, he joined a laundry list of NFL athletes, including Rae Carruth—serving 24 years for murder—and Ray Lewis—connected to two 2000 murders—who have been charged with violent crime. (Hernandez, who signed a seven-year, $39.768 million contract in August 2012, was cut from the team after he was arrested, so he will lose much of the money.)

While the Patriots say they had no inside knowledge of the case before they cut Hernandez, Adam Naylor, a School of Education clinical assistant professor of counseling and human development and sports psychology, says there were clues at least to the potential for trouble. Naylor has more than a decade of experience educating and coaching Olympians, major and minor league sports professionals, and collegiate athletes.

BU Today spoke with Naylor (SED’97,’01) about Hernandez’s mistakes, the NFL’s responsibility to help young players, and the danger of turning athletes into celebrities.

BU Today: You’ve been following this case—what strikes you as the most interesting thing about it?

Naylor: Interesting is a funny word. Interesting almost makes it seem positive. I’d probably say the absolute tragedy of it, because it’s so tragic on so many levels. It’s beyond an NFL player getting arrested, which unfortunately is too often par for the course. Its scope and scale is arguably something we have never seen from an active player.

Is there anything in Hernandez’s past that would suggest to a sports psychologist the potential of his doing something like this?

The more I look at it, there were red flags everywhere. A challenge in pro sports and in college sports is that talent can be very tempting. Hernandez’s father passed away when he was young. Your peers are going to fulfill that role in your life pretty quickly. There are thoughts that they could have had gang connections. Every NFL team is investing lots of money in these players, so they had this information. Especially now, we hear about all of these other things coming out—it was there if people chose to see it.

Adam Naylor, School of Education clinical assistant professor of sport psychology, Director of BU’s Athletic Enhancement Center

Adam Naylor, SED clinical assistant professor of counseling and human development.

Are sports psychologists ever involved in the decision of whether or not a risky player should join a team?

Come draft time, everyone gets interviewed and assessed by a psychologist. Some sort of psychological testing happens every year.

Hernandez said at one point that he felt he couldn’t trust anyone. Is it a cultural problem within the NFL if a young player feels that he doesn’t have any allies? Is it a team’s job to build a community?

A team certainly can build a community, although it can be very difficult on a professional level because everyone in essence is trying to take each other’s job. I think it really takes a philosophy and a commitment. I do think the Patriots have that. I’ve known the Krafts for a while now, and as a family they are committed to building community culture. I think a deliberate approach is important. It needs to be a real relational person-to-person contact. Hopefully that can help, because there are always some that slip through the cracks. But as I said, this one is just so grossly tragic it’s beyond slipping through the cracks.

Mentorship is important, where older players spend time with younger players. But that is really not our pro sports culture. It truly is: go to work, punch your time card, and leave, and you hope good people surround you. There’s a real necessity—especially if someone seems to not have a great history or a great crowd—to foster and nurture younger players in an intentional way, but not in a contrived way. The NFL holds a rookie symposium, but it’s just wagging your finger at kids who aren’t listening. They talk about how to stay out of trouble, how to manage your money, a lot of basic life skills stuff, and then how to handle yourself as a celebrity because of bad things that can happen. I heard that there is a guy that stands in front of them and says, “Prepare for the fact that your career could end in three years.” They’re touching on all of the right topics, but I’m not sure it ends up as relational as it could sometimes. But that’s the challenge of pro sports.

With a young player’s sudden onset of wealth and fame, should it be part of a team’s job to teach players how to be responsible adults?

I hope so, but again it’s incredible effortful and incredibly relational. It’s not just about telling people—it’s about showing and supporting. When they fall down, make sure you’re there to pick them up as quickly as possible. The challenge of that in sports is that if you fall down bad enough, the team will get rid of you pretty fast.

I think it even makes sense on the college level—how do we create cultures to teach players these life skills? I would argue that college is a better spot for these lessons than in big-time football. People talk about life skills, what are you going to do when the sports end, but these colleges need to talk about when sports continue and advise these players on how to carry themselves. College programs need to prepare young men to play football and at the same time be able to survive as a human being in the world.

What should a team do when one of its players is placed under this kind of scrutiny?

Many young lives have been ruined; right now people are washing their hands of it and letting the legal system do its job. I have some colleagues who work for the NFL Players Association, and they will bust their butts to help a player, because that’s their job. But once the legal system kicks in, they have to step back. This is at the level where I think unless the coaches see a player they think may follow in his teammate’s footsteps, they have to move on.

What about the cult of celebrity and the attitude of invincibility that some players may have? How do you speak to a young athlete about this?

It takes a real balance, and it’s more artful than it looks. Part of it is to be there for the kid. I know from experiences with kids that even the toughest athlete, if something goes bad for them, they’ll lean on you in a soft way. So I think trying not to get frustrated with these players is important. Model the right behaviors and make tough decisions. We start our hero worship with athletes quite young. Celebrate athletic achievement, but don’t celebritize them. Because the second you celebritize them, you start to get this empowerment that follows. It’s a hero worship rather than, “Nice job, you worked hard today.” I think a coach has to be wary of that in this day and age, where every coach acts like a scout, saying who is good and who is bad. Most players are somewhere in the middle when they are developing, and I think we have to respect them like that.

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

21 Comments on Was Patriots’ Hernandez a Time Bomb?

  • semajrick on 07.02.2013 at 6:32 am

    Actually NFL players get arrested less than the general population (2.8 % compared to 4.0%). Difference is that they are famous.

  • mike on 07.02.2013 at 7:07 am

    Aaron Hernandez is very likely a serial killer, an evil animal. the taxpayers of the commonwealth will pay to clothe, feed, and house this animal for decades, it’s unjust that he will be treated so well, he should face the same fate Odin Lloyd did. This doesn’t have much to do with pro sports, or college or pro teams being responsible for anything other than trying to win, anything further is laughable.

    • um what on 07.03.2013 at 11:52 am

      Calm down, bro. Just because he MAY have killed one person doesn’t mean he is “very likely a serial killer.”

      • Dubious Brother on 07.03.2013 at 3:11 pm

        Um What, I take it you’re not keeping up on the case very closely. There is evidence that Hernandez is involved with multiple murders and even more murder attempts in the past. I don’t know if technically that makes him a serial killer. (I don’t know if more particular personality traits or motivations have to be involved for that label.) But I would not be surprised that when all is said and done, it’s a known fact that Hernandez has murdered multiple people.

      • mdpoker on 07.03.2013 at 5:14 pm

        Dude shot at least 7 people. 3 are dead. That makes him a serial killer.

  • Over analysis of an obvious fact on 07.02.2013 at 7:46 am

    People who still have the good sense to recognize the reason we stereotype people look at this guy as potentially violent just based on his appearance and past behavior alone. If a guy like him with his reputation and a couple of his thug friends take you for a ride in the middle of the night something bad will likely happen to you even it is only a black eye; trust me they are not taking you to Denny’s for late night ham and eggs. His violent behavior has nothing to do with the cultural environment within the NFL and nothing needs to be fixed here. You cannot change a leopard’s spots. When you see a guy like this coming after you trust your instincts and run! Do not waste time trying to change him. BF Skinner tried and failed too.

  • Raul Fernandez on 07.02.2013 at 8:26 am

    Are you serious, BU Today? This is the kind of speculative analysis and sensationalism that has plagued your counterparts in cable news. Fatherless minority from a poor background… of course he killed someone! How could we NOT see this coming!? And adding a picture of him shirtless was a really nice touch. Are we to believe that his tattoos were somehow a tipoff to the murderous rage that laid beneath? I’ve sat quietly by as friends, pundits, and the Pats have thrown this guy under the bus with little concern for the facts of the case, because it’s their right to do so (and hey, maybe he’s guilty). But, I have come to expect much more from you than a speculative interview with an expert who has as much insight into this particular case as anyone watching the news. Not good enough, BU Today. Here’s hoping you do better tomorrow.

    • Sky on 07.02.2013 at 10:42 am

      I, for one, think the tattoos are kind of hot

      • Cloud on 07.02.2013 at 5:43 pm

        What could possibly be HOT about drawing on your body?

        The body, itself, is the ART…

    • David Keefe on 07.02.2013 at 11:26 am

      I don’t think the photo is showing him negatively at all, or trying to. Tattoos are a very personal form of self expression. I think the photo and the tats show Hernandez more as a person as opposed to the celebrity professional football player you see on the field every Sunday.

    • Kitty on 07.02.2013 at 12:00 pm

      The photo is obviously a portrait that is available publicly and for which Mr. Hernandez posed and must have approved for release. If, like Raul, you want to argue with any premise that might hold Mr. Hernandez responsible for his actions — whatever they may come to be shown to be — would it be preferable to show him in a football uniform or being arrested?

  • Vika Zafrin on 07.02.2013 at 8:50 am

    I agree with Raul’s outrage, although not with his surprise at this sort of article coming from BU Today. I’ve been really, really sad at the journalistic standards of BU’s daily publication, this year more than most.

  • carrie on 07.02.2013 at 9:02 am

    I am surprised the information from this article (http://www.bu.edu/today/2009/new-evidence-links-head-trauma-brain-disease-in-football-players/) was not included. To quote: “CTE sufferers display such symptoms as memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression, and problems with impulse control.” This is what kind of discussion I was expecting when I opened the link to today’s article, not a discussion of stereotypical background information and how that might possibly cause Hernandez to commit such a violent crime.

    • Kitty on 07.02.2013 at 12:03 pm

      Not often at such an early age…and I think the point is that,regardless of the cause of such alleged violent behavior —– Was anyone seeing signs of it, and if so, what were they prepared to do about it?

  • L on 07.02.2013 at 10:19 am

    Let’s think about this for a second: people do not make decisions lightly especially for a star on their team. Don’t you think that the Pats and some fans thought reflectively about the case and the evidence stacked against Hernandez before cutting him? Raul, you seem to discredit the fact that this man could have killed someone in order to make your point. Naylor is more than just an average person watching the TV– he is a highly experienced sport psychologist. He has been educated to avoid sensationalism in his work with athletes. He gave an expert view in why this individual not minority may have committed this crime. So instead of insulting BU today and an expert psychologist- please think about the case logically and avoid making your own speculative point.

  • SPECULATIVE on 07.02.2013 at 10:24 am


  • Tony on 07.02.2013 at 10:54 am

    In peace, I’ve been that guy that the NFL has brought in to speak to their players/rookies on various issues (Men violence against women)was our topic as well as redefining masculinity in its roles in pro sports.We have three hours a years with these players, then they follow up with a psychologist that does the assessments and make recommendations if needed. These players got a job to keep thats the point, “do what you got to do to keep your job” and for players I’ve heard one say during a conversation on bystander intervention ” why should I look out for him when I know he may get my spot, or one of us may get traded, I’m not here to make friends” Trust and Honesty is a conversation that the rookie symposium need to address and we need more then 3 hours a years to see the players perform to their expectations both on and off the field. Live convo!!! we need to start speaking with the AAU coaches, community centers where these athletes developed and observe the atmosphere there and analize the findings and compare it to your coaching philosophy or organization mission. Make sure it fits. Many teams are to flexible (winnings, $$$) and many 20 something plus year old young man who’s been told over and over by teachers, parents, clergy,coaches, neighborhood, journalist,and ooohhh yeaaah ! fans (short for fanatics) that they’re the answer to a city might feel entitled at some point in their life. Mentors may give the mentees the permission to explore the “f” word, (feelings) get you’z mind out of the gutter (i did write you’z)and when that happens resources are provided and the intervention happens. As they we say in sport coaching ” prepare so we won’t have to repair” Again with peace 1

  • Israel on 07.02.2013 at 11:10 am

    The Pats should have never put him on the team in the first place because they knew in his past, for example, he smoked drugs, had an anger management problem, and really bad friends, gang wise.

    • Kitty on 07.02.2013 at 12:20 pm

      Get real. This is about making money by having the best team, which means the best players playing the best ball. Everything else — signs and all — can be overlooked absent any “current problems.” But what about the shooting in which Mr. Hernandez was allegedly involved in Miami in February 2013, which he allegedly shot “a friend” who lost his eye as a result? The victim in the shooting would not identify his assailant, though they were riding in a car together, but filed a lawsuit against Mr. Hernandez on June 13 — before Odin Lloyd was murdered. This isn’t about race, or upbringing, or being a professional athlete with tatoos! It’s about a person making bad choices repeatedly and his profession hoping to use that player until they can’t — a disabling injury, a strategic trade, or an arrest for murder.

  • MoonBatman on 07.02.2013 at 1:59 pm

    One can disregard ethnic, socioeconomic, and physiognomic/cultural factors and still answer the article’s lead question affirmatively. Recruiters from Florida’s institutions of ‘higher ed’ have not proven themselves as particularly discriminating judges of character (The Phoenix is out of print but check the sports blotter for a window into this subculture), nor have these institutions and their peers in the league demonstrated the ability to consistently fulfill their educational mission of (re)forming ‘student’ athletes into young men of character.
    The Patriots franchise, which strikes me as a more discriminating outfit than its league peers, in this instance got what they gambled on: a fourth round felon. Erratic and violent behavior including bar fights and repeated domestic abuse? Y’all are looking at the wrong stats, too I’d say.

  • Miles Price on 07.03.2013 at 6:20 pm

    This article reminds me of the one on ESPN by Ashley Fox–both are garbage. Honestly, I don’t know where to start…Aaron Hernandez is an adult, the Patriots can’t force him into “be nice classes”, can’t and shouldn’t try to hold his hand through life and NFL teams would be accused of paternalism or worse if they tried. No one has a crystal ball and plenty of people who made poor choices in one part of their life grew to make better ones later.

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