CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's stunning how one incident can unleash a tidal wave of old stories, all of which can crush a reputation.
It was no secret that New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had a troubled adolescence. It was documented that, when Aaron lost his father as a teenager, he dealt with anger issues. And he admitted to failing one drug test for marijuana at the University of Florida.
But after he became connected with a murder investigation last week in Connecticut, those weren't the only stories being told. It dredged up his arrest in a bar fight as a 17-year-old freshman and the fact that he was questioned by police about a Gainesville shooting later that fall. Then came recent reports that some NFL scouts scrubbed him from their draft boards in 2009 because of a multitude of red flags, plus a report that a man filed a civil complaint in Florida, claiming he lost an eye after Hernandez shot him in February.
These stories don't convict Hernandez of being any part of a murder, and Hernandez has not yet been arrested in connection with it. But they don't paint a helpful picture. Neither do allegations that he destroyed his home surveillance system and handed police his cell phone in pieces.
Consider all these stories as one narrative. Does that give you a different opinion of Aaron Hernandez than you had a few weeks ago? Would you now be less comfortable if your kid came home wearing his jersey?
Hernandez's situation serves as yet another reminder that the concept of celebrity as role model is never perfect. How many people loved cooking show maven Paula Deen when her only offense was using too much butter? Now a leaked deposition has positioned her as a glaring example of deep-fried ignorance.
Before last week, Hernandez was a flawed athlete, but one whom, on the surface, was trying to erase a bad reputation. In college, he was studying the Bible with then-Florida Coach Urban Meyer. When he signed a $40 million contract extension with the Patriots, he donated $50,000 to the Myra Kraft Foundation. At that point, a father could encourage his son to make up for past wrongs and transform his attitude like Hernandez had. Yet, as story after story started flooding the media, that opportunity began to disappear.
It doesn't make high-profile athletes bad or evil. It makes them human. Even those who do good work can make major mistakes. Jim Brown is one of the greatest football players ever to strap on a helmet. In retirement, he founded the Amer-I-Can Program, which teaches life management skills to those in inner cities and prisons. He also spent four months in jail in 1999 on a vandalism conviction after smashing the windows of his wife's car during an argument.
That college football player or basketball player or volleyball player who you posed your children with after a practice? One day he or she might get pulled over for drunk driving. Or arrested in a bar fight. Or caught shoplifting.
You can't predict when something like that will happen. You can't live in fear that a child's sports idol will one day have his or her warts exposed. Many are wart-free. They contribute to the community. They stay on the sports page and out of the police blotter.
But if an athlete does stumble, if those blemishes are left for the world to view, it remains a teaching opportunity between parent and child. Then, the lesson won't be to emulate that famous player is his or her journey to the top of the sport. It will be to see that no one is infallible; that actions have consequences and that reputations could disintegrate with one wrong step.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd