At Florida, his name and likeness were removed from the locker room, football offices and a team area. Saws cut away the black slab at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium commemorating Hernandez’s All-America season in 2009. A blank piece of rock replaced it. Like Hernandez was never there.
Even his high school, Bristol Central in Bristol, Conn., wiped him from the school’s trophy case. Plaques, trophies, jerseys bearing his name were removed, according to The Providence Journal.
A trading card company replaced stickers of Hernandez with the wholesome and noodle-armed Tim Tebow.
“We’re going about our business,” one Patriots player told CBS Sports, “like Aaron Hernandez never existed.”
But is the collective revision of history a good thing?
Sure, no right-minded store would host a rack of Hernandez jerseys or sell his autograph. Never mind the exorbitant prices jerseys now fetch on sites like eBay, like the $7,500 asked for one game-used one scrawled with his autograph. But there’s a line between celebrating someone whose life, regardless of guilt or innocence, has drifted tragically off course, and running from an uncomfortable reality.
The scramble to erase Hernandez sidesteps difficult questions about how this happened in favor of a quick public relations fix. Cutting away a brick or shredding hundreds of jerseys is an easy short-term solution. No one will complain.
But what if Hernandez is acquitted? Does the brick go back up? Does he return to video games? Is he rehabilitated?
The gestures are ultimately empty in a world consumed by documenting every minute. We can’t airbrush Hernandez out of his time with Florida and the Patriots. We can’t pretend they didn’t happen. We can’t pretend a man charged with murder wasn’t recruited and cheered and drafted and signed and lauded there. We can’t pretend he didn’t catch 175 passes for the Patriots any easier than pretending he wasn’t hauled from his home in handcuffs.
Those environments, for better or worse, helped create the man in the jail cell today. He can’t be erased. He exists.