Massachusetts police and the media aren’t the only ones monitoring the Aaron Hernandez investigation.
The NFL’s security department is conducting a parallel investigation of Hernandez, who has been charged in Massachusetts with first-degree murder and five counts of illegal-firearm possession. The New England Patriots released the tight end Wednesday after his arrest.
Information from the league investigation, which does not conflict with the ongoing police investigation, will be presented for review to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He will then decide whether to suspend Hernandez, as expected under the league’s personal-conduct policy.
The NFL informed teams Thursday that “if Aaron Hernandez enters into a player contract prior to the resolution of the charges pending against him, the contract will not be approved or take effect” until a hearing with Goodell is conducted.
“The purpose of the hearing would be to determine whether Hernandez should be suspended or face other action prior to the charges being resolved,” the statement said.
Hernandez is a free agent after clearing waivers Thursday following his release by the Patriots. He remains jailed without bond in connection with the recent shooting death of 27-year-old semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez is being investigated by police as potentially being involved in a July 2012 double homicide, multiple reports indicated on Thursday.
Describing Hernandez as a “would-be gangbanger,” a source told FOX Sports that the Patriots were “concerned about the people” that the 23-year-old was associating with before the Lloyd murder. The source, though, said the Patriots didn’t have knowledge of Hernandez being involved in any off-field activities that would have warranted an investigation by the franchise or NFL.
NFL security director Jeff Miller echoed that sentiment Thursday when offering a defense of whether Patriots security should have known more about news of more off-field Hernandez trouble that has surfaced in media reports since Hernandez was first being linked to the Lloyd murder on June 17.
“That’s a difficult criticism to make of any club,” Miller said in a telephone interview with FOX Sports. “It’s hard to predict how a young man is going to perform and mature. Certainly there are players who have been drafted where teams know they are taking a calculated risk. Sometimes, the risk is greater than others.
“Hindsight is always 20/20 in a situation where a player gets into serious trouble and people say, ‘See, I knew this was going to happen.’ Even though I’m sure there are a lot of clubs that have concerns about certain players going into the draft, if those players are drafted, the teams try to work with them through their player engagement and security personnel to take the steps necessary to prevent the kinds of things that can cause big problems to a player and a team.”
Hernandez was the 2009 Mackey Award winner as college football’s top tight end but wasn’t selected until the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. It’s believed that off-field concerns such as reports of multiple failed drug tests while at the University of Florida caused his slide.
As first reported last week by FOX Sports, Hernandez received a perfect score in a pre-draft psychological exam administered by a testing service used by some NFL franchises. The report, though, expressed concern that Hernandez could be prone to future trouble based upon his social lifestyle. Two Hernandez associates are also being linked to the Lloyd homicide. One of them, Carlos Ortiz, is being held in a Hartford, Conn., jail in connection to the case.
Miller said NFL security annually provides reports on college prospects who participate in the NFL Scouting Combine as well as others likely to get drafted. Teams interested in players with checkered pasts then usually conduct their own research to determine whether they are worth the risk drafting as well as what round would be appropriate for a “flagged” prospect.
Having no previous arrests since entering the NFL, Hernandez appeared to have gotten his life in order. The Patriots believed that strongly enough to sign Hernandez to a seven-year, $41.2 million contract extension during the 2012 offseason.
The NFL conducts its own investigation after every player arrest and works in conjunction with team security in assembling reports for Goodell to review. Miller said his security staff has extensive ties with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. He also employs more than 70 independent contractors in every NFL city as well as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Hawaii that help in the fact-finding process.
“Players are aware if they find themselves in situations that bring the NFL brand or reputation into disrepute that they need to immediately inform their team about whatever incident or issue has occurred,” Miller said. “That team needs to immediately let us know so we can open an investigation and try to nail down an accurate depiction of what occurred.”
The Patriots have two security employees through an outside agency listed in the team’s 2012 media guide. The TeamOps website lists five employees connected directly with running the company or coordinating security at Gillette Stadium where the Patriots play and are based. The chief operating officer is Mark Briggs, who served 16 years in the British Army and has extensive experience with stadium security.
The Patriots didn’t respond to a FOX Sports email request seeking more details on their team security.
Miller said that most team security directors have backgrounds in law enforcement. That can pay dividends with information shared between teams and local police. A source told FOX Sports that local authorities worked with one franchise to try and prevent a spate of traffic tickets being given near team headquarters for vehicles with illegally tinted windows. Another NFL team has sources connected with area nightclubs and strip bars that let them know if a player could be headed for problems based upon their behavior at those venues.
Players and team employees are given dos-and-don’ts advice annually in seminars presented by NFL security and player engagement departments prior to the regular season. Information is presented about what measures a player should take if finding themselves in a potentially dangerous circumstance or under arrest. Players also are told how to properly register any weapons they may use – which Hernandez is alleged not to have done – and other services available through team and NFL security like free background checks on personal associates or potential business partners.
The message about trying to avoid the same mess that Hernandez now finds himself in is being stressed to the NFL’s 254-member draft class at this week’s NFL Rookie Symposium in Aurora, Ohio. Security issues are broached in the symposium seminars, but NFL senior vice president of player engagement Troy Vincent said a detailed discussion of the Hernandez situation has not been incorporated.
“It speaks for itself,” Vincent said Wednesday night. “I told the rookies in my opening remarks that we’re not going to spend any time there. The media has covered it enough. It’s been on the television the last two weeks. We want to focus our efforts on preparing (rookies) to become the best professionals as they transition to the National Football League.”
Miller believes such efforts can prevent another player from heading down the same path as Hernandez.
“We have a long way to go in understanding exactly what happened in this case, but I’m hoping that it leaves an impression with the players that things can come off track pretty quickly if you make bad decisions or run with the wrong crowd or are influenced by negative forces,” Miller said.
“The commissioner says it’s a privilege to be in the NFL as a player, official, coach or employee. We know that if we don’t hold ourselves to the highest conduct standard that we’re going to be gone. That’s the way it should be.”
Troy Vincent was interviewed by Alex Marvez and co-host Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio.