The recent arrest of Aaron Hernandez on the charges of murdering Odin Lloyd along with the possibility of also being involved in a separate double murder, combined with Hernandez’s track record of drug use while at the University of Florida, have led to speculation that team executives in the NFL may begin to change the ways in which it evaluates college players.
While no method of evaluating the personal lives of NFL prospects can guarantee the eradication of this sort of misbehavior going around the league as of late, in light of this off-season’s many issues, it is clear that something must be done. One approach to the problem that's now being discussed has recently been brought back to the attention of those concerned by CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldmen and, as it turns out, may have had a significant impact on the 2013 draft class had it already been in place. The NFL’s proposal: prohibit players who are academically ineligible from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine.
Feldman states that the purpose of barring academically ineligible players from the combine would be to help the NFL further scrutinize the maturity and commitment level of players who are entering the league. While a college degree does not guarantee that a player will stay out of trouble, it indicates a higher willingness to take personal responsibility, abide by both team and school rules in college, and a more well-rounded work ethic in more areas of life than just football.
Chris Strauss, writing on "For The Win Sports", believes that this approach may be short-sighted. Strauss discusses how not all academic problems experienced by athletes are the same. Some players are not strong students to begin with, benefitting from lower GPA standards to enter college. Some players suffer from legitimate learning disabilities and dyslexia and become academically ineligible despite their better efforts to perform in the classroom. Strauss stresses that these sorts of academic issues are entirely different from athletes that keep social lives that involve late hours, partying, and other behaviors that are detrimental not only to an athelete’s career but their lives.
There are bigger problems NFL prospects find themselves a part of, such as drug use. Getting arrested for alcohol and violence-related crimes. Being accused of sexual misconduct. Strauss argues that academic eligibility does not necessarily weed out players who have these sorts of problems, and that the combine itself could be used as a process through which these players’ personal lives are vetted rather than just a measure of their talent.
Regardless of anything that the NFL does, big-time college programs need to work with their players to make them aware of the dangers that come with the sudden fame that college football may afford them, and NFL teams need to do their due diligence in researching players that they are considering picking in the NFL draft, than keeping an eye on players on their roster who may have tendencies toward conduct detrimental to not only the team but themselves.
Robert Kraft has indicated that he did not believe that Hernandez would be capable of doing what he is now accused of doing. The New England Patriots have responded to the Hernandez arrest by allowing fans to exchange their Hernandez jerseys for the jersey of any other player on the team. Better scrutiny might have saved the Patriots and their fans a lot of heartache and stress. It also may have saved Odin Lloyd’s life. The NFL is now taking steps to try to prevent tragedies like this and many of the lesser image-tarnishing crimes that occur around the league from happening.
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