Awhile back some wiseguy columnist ( not me ) changed the name of the National Football League to the National Felony League to reflect the fact that far too many of the players in professional football were either past criminals, pending criminals or criminals in waiting. These felons may have been excellent athletes and star players, but their off field bad boy behavior was troubling or should be troubling even to diehard fans.
Up here in New England Robert Kraft and his son Jonathan Kraft boasted about the Patriot Way, an organizational commitment to hire and keep players who had character and followed the straight and narrow both on the field and especially off the field. With players like Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi and Matt Light, it was easy to boast about the Patriot Way.
But somewhere along the way, the Patriot Way broke down. I personally think it was when Myra Kraft got sick and eventually went to her eternal reward that her role as a moral compass for her husband, son and for the team ended the Patriot Way.
This is admittedly a simplistic answer to the demise of the Patriot Way, since coach Belichick along with the Krafts decided to follow the rest of the league and take a chance on felons or bad boys with serious character issues. I guess this could be called the Ray Lewis model. Players like Donte Stallworth, Albert Haynesworth, Nick Kazsur, Brandon Spikes among others tarnished the name of the Patriots as character was replaced by athletic reputation or athletic experience. All of sudden we read about players beating up women, drinking to excess, carrying unregistered guns, flaunting their homophobia or being just plain stupid.
Now there is Aaron Hernandez to add to the failure of the Patriot Way. Hernandez is of course innocent until proven guilty and he may be just an innocent bystander. But there is enough suspicious activity surrounding this murder case that the Patriots have another bad boy problem, and that doesn’t even include the lawsuit from Florida alleging that Hernandez shot a guy in the eye outside a strip club. Whatever happened to a quiet dinner with a wife or girl friend?
Professional sports has been fixated on steroid use for so long that it has lost sight of the problem of off field behavior that ruins the image of the team and the league. Certainly there are far more good guys playing the game than bad apples, but there are too many of these felons or near felons around. Maybe the Krafts and the other owners need to have a priest or minister around the team to give these ethically challenged players some lessons in following the right path. God I wish Myra Kraft were still alive.