It is human nature to want to better oneself. We strive to be better at our jobs, to get a better salary or a better promotion. We go to school for nearly a quarter of our lives to become better at the skills we spend the rest of our lives trying to better every day.
We work for better houses, better cars, better vacations, neighbors and friends. We want to be better. The American dream is not about having everything; it's about getting everything and working every day to be better than the day before in an effort to collect the things that make life…better.
Of course, things don't always make life better, and things don't always make people better, either. Aaron Hernandez is not better than he was yesterday.
It's been a rough couple of weeks for the Patriots tight end, embroiled in scandal and a police investigation surrounding his involvement in the murder of his associate, Odin Lloyd.
Every day more rumors swirl that Hernandez will be charged with a litany of offenses, ranging from obstructing investigative efforts to far worse crimes, for which it seems Hernandez is not yet in the clear.
As the football world waits to find out if Hernandez is the next Ray Lewis or Rae Carruth—or merely a victim of proximity, circumstance and horrible legal advice—the fact remains that Hernandez did something to put himself in this situation.
Life isn't getting any better, and the more we learn about Hernandez off the field, the more we understand why. For life to get better, we have to want to better ourselves.
This is a man who reportedly smashed his cell phone and personal home surveillance equipment after the police requested to see them. This is a man who was seen with the victim a few hours before the murder and refuses to cooperate with authorities.
This is a man who is being sued for reportedly shooting another man in the face in February and still, just four months later, finds himself in another shooting-related mess.
This is not a man bettering himself. Not by a long shot.
No Way Out?
Hernandez has had his home searched by police on multiple occasions this week. He was turned away from the Patriots team facility. He has a swarm of roughly three dozen reporters camped outside his house, ready to chronicle his every move. He was engulfed by reporters at a gas station and tracked through the sky by news helicopters late last week.
There is no way for Hernandez to escape the scrutiny, and it seems just a matter of time before Hernandez will be unable to escape some culpability. No, this is not going to get better anytime soon.
NFL pundits have taken to radio, TV and all forms of media to debate whether Hernandez will suit up for the Patriots this season or ever again, especially considering NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's penchant for punishing players whose behavior tarnishes the NFL multi-billion dollar brand. Even if he is clear of any wrongdoing, there is a likelihood that Hernandez may face time away from the field.
If he is charged with a crime, or worse, convicted, there is no telling how long he could be gone. And yet, how long Hernandez is out of football seems secondary at this moment.
Ray Lewis survived his legal woes to redeem his life, refocus his career and ensure his place in the annals of football history. Rae Carruth…not so much. The story for Hernandez hasn't even been written yet, and how his NFL career resumes will be determined by how much better things get for him, and how much better he, himself, can be.
The NFL's issue with law-breakers is not limited to two former players and Hernandez, for sure. Just this year there have been more than 30 players arrested for myriad offenses, ranging from driving under the influence to assault to carrying a loaded gun in an airport.
The issue is not limited to just the NFL, and it is naïve to suggest the issue is limited to just American sports, or sports in general. Oscar Pistorius is not an NFL player, nor is he an American athlete, and while the stories about famous athletes being arrested or associated with heinous crimes like murder-by-gun are instant headline-grabbers, it would be narrow-minded to think the percentage of people involved in that type of offense is somehow higher in professional sports than in everyday life.
Becoming Better, as a Person
In a way, this story is much bigger than Hernandez, or the Patriots, or the NFL. It's about the opportunities we all get to be something—someone—better.
It may be human nature to try to better oneself, but some people don't seem to care. No matter what he did or how he is involved in Lloyd's murder (at this point in the story it's hard to believe he isn't involved in some way, even if he is only covering up evidence to protect someone else) Hernandez has shown through his actions and behavior that he seems uninterested in bettering himself.
It's amazing to think that someone who spent so many years trying to get better at his craft, and in turn receiving all the money and fame and belongings that come with it, would seemingly forget to work on becoming better as a person.
Being a better football player is not the same as being a better human being. Hernandez is the latest person to be faced with that realization.
If it's human nature to want to better oneself, somewhere along the way Hernandez must have convinced himself that having material items like a multi-million dollar salary and enormous suburban home was the end result of that process, not a reason to continue it every day.
Now, because of his apparent inability to separate himself from a life of violence, thuggery and criminality, Hernandez is in a fishbowl, with media outside his door chronicling his every move and police in and out of his home collecting evidence that could lead to his undoing.
This isn't trying to be an indictment of a perceived criminal culture in the NFL, nor is it a referendum on gun control. This is about human nature, and how our goal should be to make that day better than the one that came before it.
Hernandez is one of the lucky ones in life, using his talents to reach heights most of us will never know, and yet his decisions have managed to pull him down to a place from which his career—and maybe his life—can never recover.
Now all Hernandez can do is hope things get better so he can get a second chance to be better. First, it seems, things may start to get a whole lot worse.