By Phil Clark

imagesWhen did the New England Patriots become the NFL‘s most controversial team?

The Aaron Hernandez scandal involving the former Patriots tight-end being charged with murder as well as five gun charges on Wednesday was the final scandal or negative story needed for the Patriots to take the number one spot when it comes to controversy. Hernandez is a former Patriots player because the team released him soon after he was taken into custody, as would be expected.Even though the Patriots have distanced themselves from Hernandez, it’s going to be impossible for them to distance themselves from the story. There’s simply too much to associate with the Patriots from this story: Hernandez has been well-known from his very first year playing for them, the murder took place in the organization’s backyard, the trial (and media frenzy) will take place in the same location and the story of an NFL player involved in murder has been shown in the past to be food for this country’s media and trial nuts.

In all fairness, “most controversial” is a moniker that has been years in the making for the Patriots. Over the last decade, the Patriots have gone on a journey from being beloved winners to hated winners (the curse that can go with becoming a dynasty) to villains thanks to the Spygate scandal and a perceived snobbish demeanor, especially from coach Bill Belichick.

Just one thing about Spygate: it makes me laugh that people still use this scandal to question the Patriots’ undefeated regular season in 2007 and their dynasty. The tapes the NFL got were from years that included only one of the Patriots’ three Super Bowls under Belichick, and the incident happened in the first game of the 2007 season. To negate that entire season for something that happened in the first game is ridiculous and is more about dislike for a team than remembering the critical points of a case. As long as it happened that season, that’s good enough for many people. But seriously, if the Patriots were still using cameras in the 15 games that followed them getting busted in 2007 and nobody was able to spot it (since nothing was reported after), that would be pathetic on the part of the league and anti-Patriots fans everywhere.

Okay, back to the Patriots and their more recent bits of negative press…

In recent years, Rob Gronkowski has provided the Patriots with plenty of controversy, but most of it has been overblown. It’s been more a case of created controversy with Gronk between the drunken behavior made out to be more than just stupidity while partying as well as his dating a porn star somehow needing to be apologized for. That was without a doubt the most ridiculous thing attached to Gronk in his time with the Patriots: that he had to apologize in public for something in his personal life. I understand the fact that he represents the team and all of that, but this wasn’t something that Gronk went out of his way to make public, it just became public as most things involving athletes do. The team could have ignored it, but didn’t and made all involved look like tools in the process. Sad, but I digress.

Then there was the owner of the Patriots, Robert Kraft, losing his Super Bowl ring to Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. That is not a typo nor is it inaccurate. Even though the act took place in 2005, the story suddenly has gotten immense attention recently, especially with Putin being very condescending with his comments about the whole situation. From outright denying that he took the ring when everyone else admitted it happened to admitting it and making like he never denied it to contradicting what he says almost constantly to saying that he’d get Kraft a new ring “if it is such a treasure.” If a Super Bowl ring is a such a treasure to the owner of an NFL team? Wow. Either this man has never heard of the sport of football in his life or he truly understands how untouchable he is in this situation.

The biggest bit of real controversy, to me at least, involving the Patriots lately has been how they allowed themselves not only to lose Wes Welker, but lose him to their chief AFC rival, the Denver Broncos. This is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen the Patriots do with their team in a real long time. Sure, the Patriots have had some stumbles with acquisitions and player usage in recent years, but nothing this potentially damaging to their team.

Welker has been the most productive receiver in the NFL almost his entire time with the Patriots, and is a receiver who will always have my utmost respect for voluntarily catching passes over the middle (the most dangerous part of the field to catch passes) more than any receiver that plays the game or has played the game in recent years. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady even was able to work his contract to the point where he re-signed was able to open up salary cap room for the Patriots. This was done presumably for the Patriots to re-sign Welker as well. Instead, they basically gave him away.

And now there’s the Hernandez story. Of all the other stories mentioned, this is by far the darkest. This involves murder and a particularly cold kind of murder at that. Add to that the possibility that Hernandez was involved in a triple homicide in Boston last summer and that was a motive for this killing, and the story continues to test the darkest depths a sports story can find itself in.

Whether or not Hernandez survives without jail time for the murder charge is still up in the air, but it’s very unlikely that he’ll escape without jail time for the gun charges. Plaxico Burress shot himself and went to jail whereas Hernandez is a man with a history of gun use on the record that is facing five gun charges in relation to a murder.

The next question about Aaron Hernandez shouldn’t be about his NFL future, but whether his fate in regards to his brush with the law will resemble Burress, Ray Lewis, or Rae Carruth.

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Phil Clark

Born in Muskego, Wisconsin, Phil attended UWM and graduated with a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing. A fan of football his entire life, he began writing about football for Inside Pulse in 2007. Since then, he has written for several different sites while writing about football, mixed martial arts, boxing, basketball, and pro wrestling.

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