There is an old saying that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. Along those lines, after the conclusion of the Aaron Hernandez trial yesterday I was left with this – fame and money do not suddenly make someone a better person who is worthy of being a role model, it reveals their true character.
I don’t make this statement to try and run down Hernandez – lord knows there’s been plenty of that already. I say it because we need to be very careful of who we put on a pedestal. There were many people in my home state of Connecticut crowing about how great it was that Hernandez was one of “ours” and a great example of how someone from a tough town can make good and become a star. Good luck finding those people now.
Troubled people do not change when suddenly given millions of dollars and an abundance of fame. In fact, if you look closer, the opposite is often the case. The only thing that changes is their ability to hide their transgressions or buy their way out of them.
Unfortunately the NFL is loaded with examples like this. Look at all the cases of domestic violence, the bullying case of Richie Incognito with the Dolphins (and I guarantee that is just the one that came to light), or the downfall of Lawrence Phillips in jail for assaulting is girlfriend, and who is now suspected of killing his cellmate in prison. Adrian Peterson was arrested for whipping his son, several players have been jailed for dealing drugs, and several others for fraud. Then there are the more extreme examples of Hernandez and OJ Simpson.
There are numerous examples of musicians and actors jailed for a wide range of crimes. Rappers seem to lead the way these days, though it is not an exclusive club. Bobby Brown has gone to jail more than once. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary did time for having sex with a 14-year old back in 1970 (he received a pardon from President Carter in 1981). Chuck Berry did time for armed robbery and sex with an underage girl. Steve Earle did time for drugs. Producer Phil Spector is doing life for murder.
Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum, look at all the incredible charity work done by many celebrities who find themselves in the position of being able to afford to help. What Drew Brees has done for the children of New Orleans is amazing. Peyton Manning has his own foundation to help children, and donated millions of dollars to a hospital in Indianapolis. London Fletcher’s foundation, London’s Bridge, has helped numerous children from underprivileged backgrounds. Albert Pujols of the Angels runs a foundation designed to help families and children who live with Down’s Syndrome. Bill Gates donates more money than the GDP of some small countries.
To be sure, there are far more people doing good works than committing crimes like Hernandez, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be very careful in choosing who we hold up as role models. Fame does not necessarily equal good.
Finally, why is it that we are more likely to forgive a sports star, musician, or actor who makes a mistake, but we don’t extend the courtesy to people from everyday walks of life who run into trouble. There is something very wrong with that.