Rolling Stone: The Patriots Knew Aaron Hernandez Was Trouble

A long investigation into Hernandez's life sheds light on the team that took a chance on him.

Rolling Stone magazine has once again dug into the Massachusetts crime news with a long investigation into the Aaron Hernandez saga, one that makes the New England Patriots appear as if they were more aware of Hernandez’s issues than it has seemed. (And no, this time they did not put our accused murderer on the cover. They wisely went with Bob Dylan.) Like the Tsarnaev story before it, Rolling Stone’s Hernandez article is arriving late to a very, very well-covered story. And so writer Paul Solotaroff, working with Boston Herald columnist Ron Borges, spends much of the time adding detail to narratives we’ve heard before—his radical personality shift after his father’s sudden death gets explored at much more length, for instance.

But the most striking departures from past media narratives are the details, most of which come from anonymous sources and are therefore a bit hard to evaluate, about the New England Patriots. Solotaroff calls it “arrant nonsense,” that owner Robert Kraft was “duped” by Hernandez. Everyone, he says, knew Hernandez had significant drug and behavior problems. Whatever Kraft knew, coach Bill Belichick, at least, seems to have been intimately aware of Hernandez’s thuggish lifestyle, even threatening to cut or trade him. Anonymous sources claim that Hernandez, who was allegedly doing a lot of paranoia-inducing drugs, confided in Belichick …

…that his life was in danger. Hernandez was trying to break away from the gangsters he’d befriended. He worried “they were actually trying to kill him,” says the source. Hernandez began arming himself, stashing a rifle in his gym bag and installing a 14-camera security system at his mansion. “He was very paranoid, but was that because of his addictions or because he was trying to leave the gang?”

Hernandez went to California for rehab of a shoulder problem, but he missed therapist sessions, blew off a Pats receiver camp with Tom Brady, and had the police summoned to his home when he had a fight with his fiance and put his hand through a window. “No arrest was made, but word got back to Belichick, who exploded and tendered notice: Any more disruptions and he’d be traded or cut at the end of the 2013 season,” Rolling Stone says.

In the wake of Hernandez’s arrest, many a pundit said the Patriots ought to have known what they were getting into. The “Patriots’ Way” was dead because they’d abandoned their principles to take a chance on an obviously troubled prospect. Others (amusingly) pointed out that positive drug tests in college don’t necessarily indicate that someone is going to commit execution-style murders left and right. But if the anonymous sources are right, and Bill Belichick knew that Hernandez was getting in domestic disputes, carrying a gun wherever he went, and paranoid for his life because of the thug company he kept, that seems to put points in favor of the former school. The Patriots knew the risk they’d taken on. And they took it anyway. Rolling Stone’s Solotaroff writes as if he’s in this camp:

Time was, the Pats were the Tiffany franchise, a team of such sterling moral repute that they cut a player right after they drafted him, having learned he had a history of assaulting women. But Belichick, the winner of three Super Bowl titles and grand wizard of the greatest show on turf, had decided long before he got to New England that such niceties were beneath him. Over a decade, he… began drafting kids with hectic pasts, assuming the team’s vets would police them. Some of this was arrogance, some of it need: When you’re picking from the bottom of the deck each spring, you’re apt to shave some corners to land talent.

That’s a pretty damning way to cast it. But whether you buy it probably depends in part on how much of the anonymously sourced reporting on Belichick’s conversations with Hernandez you believe. And for that, you’ll have to read the Rolling Stone story for yourself. (Unless you all were serious about swearing it off for life, that is.)