As Aaron Hernandez awaits his trial while being held in the Bristol County (Mass.) House of Corrections without bail, the New England Patriots are preparing for the league’s first jersey exchange program this weekend.
The Patriots announced last week that they would offer anyone with a Hernandez jersey an exchange for a free jersey of comparable value that doesn’t have the tight end’s name on it. The exchange will be held July 7-8 and will be accessible at the Patriots Pro Shop.
"We know that children love wearing their Patriots jerseys but may not understand why parents don’t want them wearing their Hernandez jerseys anymore," Patriots spokesman Stacey James said in a statement, according to ESPNBoston.com. "We hope this opportunity to exchange those jerseys at the Patriots Pro Shop for another player’s jersey will be well received by parents."
In the hours after the exchange program was announced, however, a precarious trend began taking form online. Authentic Aaron Hernandez Patriots jerseys, usually sold in the $100-120 range, were seeing more and more bids on eBay. Instead of being sold at reduced prices, online buyers were gobbling up the jerseys for nearly double their usual cost.
A previously worn medium size Nike Hernandez jersey, being sold by the seller “cabmason”, was listed at $305 on Monday. There are multiple bids currently in play. A signed Hernandez jersey is going for $690 and has over 70 bids in action. Across the web, signed Hernandez items like football cards and mini helmets, were being hocked for prices more than they were prior to his arrest last week.
The sports memorabilia vendor Palm Beach Autographs was once the exclusive dealer for all Hernandez signed items. Jim Dodson, an owner of the company, says that in the days following the arrest, his company drastically cut prices on all Hernandez items so as not to profit from the tragedy. Like the Patriots before them, Palm Beach Autographs didn’t want to have much association with him. "When all the details starting coming out, we decided to put all of our Hernandez items on sale to liquidate them,” Dodson said.
What he didn’t expect was the potential increased interest buyers would have. “We weren’t sure how the market would react, but we were quite sure we wanted to get rid of these items. Well, people are buying it. We’ve got hundreds of Hernandez signed items in stock. Sure enough, people have been buying them.”
If you recall the piece of Luis Gonzalez chewed gum fetching a reported $10,000 dollars in an online auction or the shavings of Tim Hudson’s beard getting $75 a few years back, you’re well aware of how unpredictable and sometimes bizarre the world of sports memorabilia can be.
But Hernandez is an accused murderer. Why the interest in his stuff?
“You’d be surprised with what some collectors are interested in,” says Ryan Cohen, Vice President of Grandstand Sports Memorabilia. “There are people out there who pay top dollar for Hitler memorabilia. There are collectors of Saddam Hussein memorabilia. Al Capone, too.”
“But, those men all changed history, or at least were major historical figures,” Cohen said. “Aaron Hernandez didn’t change world history. To be honest, I’d actually be shocked if there’s a lasting market for his memorabilia at all.”
Cohen’s company, based in New York City, saw what he described as a “high demand” for Hernandez signed items prior to the player’s recent arrest. “We did an event with him a week before all of this occurred. We got several bids on his items. He’s a Patriots star and has the Tim Tebow connection from their time at Florida.” Signed jerseys would routinely go for $500 in Northeast cities. “There definitely was a market for his stuff. [Rob] Gronkowski and Tom Brady sold more, but Hernandez items were popular sellers across New England.”
He says that demand is all but gone now. “We deal primarily in silent auctions and charity events. In that world, no one is going to want anything affiliated with Aaron Hernandez. Whether he is innocent or guilty, it doesn’t matter at this point. Charity events won’t want his items on display.”
Cohen points to another former NFL star, saying that the market for Plaxico Burress memorabilia “absolutely tanked” following his 2009 arrest. “In the post-9/11, post-Newtown era, no one is glorifying guys who are involved in these types of crimes,” Cohen said. “Whether Hernandez is found innocent or guilty, his name is tainted moving forward. The gun charges, alone, make him toxic in the memorabilia world.”
If he’s toxic in the memorabilia world, Hernandez is still quite relevant in the social media one. Hours after a 2009 “selfie” photo of Hernandez holding a gun in a mirror ran on TMZ.com last Wednesday, an Instagram hashtag “#Hernandezing” caught fire and took the web by storm. It became a thing. Type in the hashtag today and there are hundreds of people — children, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters — posing for photos with guns in their hands, just like Hernandez did in his.
The recent uptick in Hernandez eBay item interest could very well just be an aberration; a short-term flash in the pan. Or, the case could lead to an increased interest in all things Aaron Hernandez. Only time will tell.
Cohen is expecting the former scenario to play out. “Remember the O.J. Simpson trial? It was a cultural phenomenon; an absolute media circus and in my eyes, the birth of reality TV,” he says. “Well, there was a famous photo of O.J. sitting in the white Bronco. After the trial, he would sign the photo and try to sell it at autograph shows. No one really bought it. That was O.J. — a Heisman trophy winner and a Hall of Famer. Even if Hernandez is found innocent, I just don’t see there being much of a market for his items moving forward.”
Best-selling author Chuck Klosterman has a new book coming out on July 9 titled “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined).”
When I asked the social commentator whether he saw any similarities to the Simpson trial, he answered, “I don’t think this will turn into anything approaching the O.J. trial. That was a totally different thing — he was a different level of celebrity, the trial coincided with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and people’s personal feelings on the case seemed to indicate larger opinions about society. The situation with Hernandez is closer to a Rae Carruth scenario. I suppose all the people involved with the case will become temporary celebrities, but that’s just because the bar for celebrity is continually being lowered. In four weeks, there will probably be more people talking about the possibility of Tebow converting to tight end than about anyone who got murdered by Aaron Hernandez.”
The Patriots would gladly welcome such a change in public discourse.