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July 28, 2013

Adam's Angle: Hernandez cast away by Florida

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    The Silver Lining comes to you at week's end during the summer to highlight some of the most important Florida Gators-related sports stories from the past week.

    It is always nice when something divisive happens just as I'm sitting down to write Adam's Angle and nothing could fit that bill better this week than Florida's University Athletic Association removing the 2009 All-American brick featuring Aaron Hernandez's name from outside of The Swamp on Thursday.

    From the tweets and e-mails I received, Gator Nation is legitimately split on Florida's decision. Some argue the Gators made the right move in trying to scrub away the tarnish associated with Hernandez's name while others think Florida was too expeditious in its actions and failed to allow the legal process to determine whether or not he is guilty of the heinous acts he is accused of committing.

    What many are failing to realize is that while "innocent until proven guilty" is the standard for our legal system across this great country, it is not UF's job to determine his guilt or innocence but rather act in the best interests of the university.

    And it is in Florida's best interest not to remind students, parents, fans, visitors or potential students (and perhaps most importantly to the UAA, boosters and potential student-athletes) that Hernandez made a name for himself with "Gators" on his helmet.

    There is a reason this happened one day before Friday Night Lights, the school's annual recruiting spectacular, and just over one month before the season opens at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Aug. 31.

    It is also crucial to note that while Florida is pulling up a brick and replacing some pictures, it is not taking away Hernandez's accomplishments. The Gators are not crossing him out of the program's record books but rather choosing to no longer glorify him as a person because of his decaying character.

    UF is trying to turn Hernandez into a memory so he can fade away and become a background image when you think about the football program rather than have his name and likeness, posted all over the football facility, serve as a constant reminder of a player that succeeded on Florida Field but failed in life.

    For Gators fans chastising Florida for making this decision, do you really want to walk by that brick on your way to a game on Saturday? Do you really want opposing fans stopping to take pictures with it as a means of trying to further sully the name of your school? Do you really want ESPN's producers, while in town to televise a big game for the network, switching over to a pre-recorded video of the brick during a lull in game action?

    This is not 1995. It is 2013. People of the State of California vs. Orenthal James Simpson was decided 16 years ago. The world has changed. Social media and the internet do not allow this story to be something you only hear about when you pick up the paper in the morning, walk over to the water cooler at work or watch the news at night. This Hernandez case will be in the news and on television, sure, but also on your Twitter feed and Facebook timeline. It will likely be mentioned during every Gators or Patriots game this season. It is everywhere. It is not disappearing any time soon, and it is only going to get worse from here…especially because it is no longer about just one case.

    Hernandez is not only the prime suspect in the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. Massachusetts authorities are attempting to connect him (and believe they are close to doing so) to the 2012 shooting deaths of two other men. Hernandez has also been accused of shooting a friend in the eye while riding a car in Florida last year. He's not accused of two simultaneous crime-of-passion murders in one location on one date but rather a series of shootings taking place over an extended period of time.

    By this point, it should come as no surprise to you that I agree with Florida's decision and the general logic for removing Hernandez's brick along with his name and likeness throughout the Gators football facility.

    But I do have to seriously question the UAA's execution.

    It bothers me that UF was not smart enough to realize there were much better options when it came to carrying out the announcement and removal of the brick. What happened on Thursday was far from the most ideal way to handle the situation.

    If the whole point of the decision was to no longer glorify Hernandez and stop references connecting him to the Gators, why blatantly provide the media with another big news story by having someone dig up the brick at 8 a.m. on a Thursday as people are walking to class and work, taking a morning jog or grabbing some breakfast?

    Why do this at a time of the day that the campus is busy and full of life, when a journalism professor might be walking by and can snap a picture, or when a media member can easily be alerted to the situation and rush over on a moment's notice?

    Why send out a four-sentence explanation after the fact - without a single word from the athletic director or school president - rather than nipping everything in the bud and attacking the situation head-on with an official statement from either of the University's most esteemed leaders?

    Florida says it "put together an immediate plan after the initial news broke" to wipe Hernandez's stain off of the facility. While removing the brick was understandably "a more complex process," there was no reason for it to be a public display.

    If the Gators had this planned, why not release a full statement ahead of time explaining the reasoning and noting that the brick would be removed at some point in the next week? Florida could have sent someone out there at 4 a.m. to get it done on a random day when the chances of there being spectators, gawkers or media would be greatly reduced if not completely eliminated - here today, gone tomorrow.

    Or if the Gators wanted it gone first before explaining themselves, just reverse the process. Still send someone out at 4 a.m. to cut the brick out of the ground and then release an official statement - more than four insulting sentences without a word from anyone in a position of authority - at 8 a.m. before the blank brick in its place would even be noticed.

    (If there is some legal issue I'm not taking into account - such as construction only being allowed to occur at certain times or permits only going into effect beginning at 8 a.m. - just place one of those orange barriers in a square around the area.)

    Either way, no matter what, control the situation.

    Perhaps UF, which has been overwhelmed with negative media attention over the last few weeks, thought it could get a shred of positive publicity out of the decision. Maybe Florida believed it would be praised just like New England was for taking some action. (The Patriots allowed fans to exchange their Hernandez jerseys for another player on the team.)

    Regardless of the motivation or the reasoning, the Gators were aware they would get some negative blowback by removing the brick, just as they would have if it was left in place.

    The true issue at hand is not the decision to remove the brick but rather the fact that that Florida had a terrific opportunity to ameliorate the unfortunate situation but ultimately failed.


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