ETHAN BAUER, University of Florida
Ethan Bauer is a rising senior at the University of Florida pursuing a degree in journalism with an outside concentration in philosophy. He stumbled into a job as a sports copy editor at UF’s student newspaper – the Independent Florida Alligator – as a freshman and advanced from cross-country beat writer to football beat writer in less than a year. He also spent three semesters as the Alligator’s assistant sports editor and one as its main sports editor. Those experiences led to a job as the UF correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and an internship with the Miami Herald. While Ethan enjoys the chance to be different in his columns, he likes writing narratives and long-form features more. In his free time, he enjoys freshwater fishing and a round of golf. Ethan was born in Miami, and until college, lived in Pembroke Pines, Florida, with his scientist parents, Bill and Maria Elena.
Hernandez’s ‘Legacy’ Shouldn’t Be Honored, But It Also Shouldn’t Be Forgotten
by Ethan Bauer
From Dale Van Sickel in 1928 to Vernon Hargreaves III in 2015, bricks commemorating the Florida football team’s All-Americans stripe the southwest corner outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. There’s Danny Wuerffel, 1996. There’s Tim Tebow, 2007. And there, right above Maurkice Pouncey’s slab from 2009, is a blank hunk of gray.
For those new to UF, the missing brick raises questions. Did they just forget to put one there? Did the player get caught cheating later on? Did the name get damaged beyond recognition? But for those who follow Gators football, they know this isn’t a mistake. They know it isn’t a technicality. And they probably know the brick that used to be there was shredded with a saw and torn from the ground like it never existed.
They know that brick belonged to Aaron Hernandez, the convicted murderer who hanged himself after starring as an All-American tight end at Florida in the late 2000s.
They also know it wasn’t the only reminder the school had to remove.
Under the stadium, his picture was etched into the paint and filled frames on the walls to commemorate Florida’s 2008 National Championship. His likeness decorated posters descending from rafters in the facility’s underbelly, and his name dotted the program’s promotional materials. So when the player was charged with murder on June 26, 2013, the school came up with a plan the rid itself of the name and face of Hernandez, arguably the most famous No. 81 to ever suit up at Florida and one of its most prominent NFL players at the time of his booking.
His image was a disease, and the UF athletic department used every marvel of modern medicine available to eradicate it.
Nowadays, one of the only reminders left is buried deep in the athletic department’s website under the roster information from 2007-2009. You can still find the disease’s biography there, and thanks to a mini-profile section, it reveals some interesting details.
For example, the disease’s father died when he was in high school. The disease’s nickname at Florida – and after – was Chico because of his Puerto Rican heritage. And the disease was known for his collection of tattoos, with each one telling a story about its life:
“If it is to be, it is up to me.”
“Some do. Some don’t.”
The biographical info is accompanied on the website by a mugshot, some statistics and a year-by-year breakdown of his on-field accomplishments, including winning the Mackey Award, which is presented yearly to college football’s top tight end. It’s the last reminder of a past UF wants to forget. Wants to remove. Wants to pretend never existed.
But can the university really scrub itself clean of the disease called Aaron Hernandez? The disease that was convicted of killing a man? The disease that once punched a Gainesville bouncer so hard that his eardrum ruptured? The disease that was found dangling from a bedsheet?
The answer is no.
Go ahead. Search for “Aaron Hernandez.” See what comes up first in his description on Wikipedia.
Does it refer to him as a convicted killer? Nope. Does it say he killed himself?
Nope. Does it mention he starred with the New England Patriots? Nope.
The first fact: Hernandez was a tight end who played college football at the University of Florida.
That association isn’t something people forget. And it’s not something UF should completely forget, either.
Now, that isn’t to say the Florida football program should trot out his pictures to recruits and tell them that if they go to Florida, maybe they can end up like Hernandez some day.
But Hernandez’s flare for violence doesn’t change the fact that he was partially responsible for Florida’s third national championship. Killing himself doesn’t negate the Mackey Award. Killing someone else doesn’t strip himself of his All-American status.
What Hernandez did after his time at Florida didn’t change history. It just added onto it.
His actions made it impossible for the school to associate with him in the future, sure, but that doesn’t mean it should erase what he did in the past.
The program can’t eradicate the disease and pretend it was never there when, like the bubonic plague, it so painfully was. When every news story about Hernandez starts by mentioning that he’s a former Florida Gator and, oh yeah, a murderer. When SEC Country and 24/7Sports care more about a murder trial than news networks do.
Everyone who cares knows he went to UF, and nothing will change that. If Florida had left his name and brick intact — instead of altering history — that square could have served as a reminder and a lesson to generations of players and students who walked by it every day: Football can’t save you from everything.
Being a fourth-round NFL Draft pick doesn’t grant immunity from arrest.
Being an All-American doesn’t prevent being charged with murder. And catching passes from Tim Tebow today can turn into swaying like a pendulum in a prison cell with John 3:16 scrawled across your lifeless forehead tomorrow.