Pats, at least, are not guilty

The Patriots have been accused of being a hot mess lately and, seeing as a prominent player was arrested, charged with murder and subsequently cut by the team Wednesday, this is not without merit.

What the Patriots also are, though, is a model for how to be a hot mess.

No, really, if there was a page in the playbook for how to handle an Aaron Hernandez situation, the Pats executed it with perfection.

They took a fourth-round flier on a talented, yet troubled guy.

They got crazy-good production out of him for two years, so much so they signed him to a big-money deal.

And when it became increasingly apparent he had some level of involvement in the death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, they cut him. We do not know how involved Hernandez was. That remains for a court to decide, though the innocent mind rarely destroys his home-security system, has his home professionally cleaned and smashes his phone before turning it over to police. All of that has been alleged.

And innocent until proven guilty notwithstanding, this looks like it will get worse for Hernandez. A lot worse.

The Patriots did not release him because they think this has ugly potential. I guarantee they did their own investigation, have their own police sources, probably were made privy to what lies ahead for Hernandez, and my guess is it is ugly. So they fired him, effectively saying “good luck with all of that.”

This is exactly what NFL teams should do. Forget the ridiculous notion the Pats aided and abetted him by drafting him, like this all could have been avoided if he had been left to his own devices back in 2010.

Nor did they owe him the benefit of the doubt after his arrest. They did not owe him anything – not time for jurisprudence to run its course and certainly not that initial chance.

Why the Pats drafted Hernandez when he came free-falling into the fourth round is because that is the business of the NFL. I had to laugh reading all of these general managers lining up – anonymously, of course – last week to say how failed drug tests at Florida and questionable friends had turned him into “don’t touch” on a lot of draft boards. It was typical Monday morning quarterbacking, and hypocritical considering there is at least one guy on every NFL team who had red flags on his draft report.

What all of those GMs needed to say was: There but for the grace of God go I.

If there is a criticism of the Patriots, it is their belief that the Patriot Way could keep Hernandez in line. They are hardly alone in this, I might add. There seems to be a league-wide belief that “Hey, we’ll help keep this guy from driving drunk/beating his girlfriend/shooting people in the face.”

This is total BS.

Hernandez is a textbook example of what I like to call The Deterrent Myth – this idea that fear of punishment or a positive peer group or big money keeps people in line. The Patriots gave Hernandez a five-year contract worth $40 million last year, money dependent upon him not being incarcerated or suspended by the league because of involvement in a crime.

How’d that work as a deterrent?

Hernandez is just the latest sports example of how you cannot deter stupid. The cheaters will cheat, the idiots will self-inflict and pro sports would be better if we cut out the paternalistic crap and just let players self-select, as happens elsewhere in society.

This is not a criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He has fought the good fight to protect the image of the league, and his legacy includes shining the shield. My point is rather that there is nothing he can do to prevent waking up on Wednesday to two of his players — Hernandez and Cleveland linebacker Ausar Walcott — having their names in legal sentences with the word murder.

You counsel. You hope. And then you clean up the inevitable messes as they come. Or in other words, you do exactly as the Patriots did with Hernandez.

This is also a good game plan for whoever picks up Hernandez if the courts ultimately exonerate him, or if he’s charged with the lower-level crime of destroying evidence to protect his crew. Because you know another team will grab a player as talented as he.

They just need to do so knowing you cannot deter stupid, and the only useful response is goodbye and good luck with all of that.