Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 55° Partly Cloudy

Bianchi: What if Aaron Hernandez, Lawrence Phillips had been held accountable in college?

Mike Bianchi Orlando Sentinel

Aaron Hernandez, the former University of Florida star tight end, was convicted of murder on Wednesday just two days after Lawrence Phillips, a former University of Nebraska superstar running back, was accused of murder.

Hernandez was found guilty of slaying a man who was dating the sister of his fiancee; Phillips is accused of killing his cellmate at a California prison.

What would make such incredibly talented football players who once had multimillion-dollar contracts commit such heinous crimes? Where does it all start; what triggers star players into thinking they are above the law; why do they begin believing they can literally get away with murder?

Look no further than our intercollegiate institutions of higher earning, er, learning. Look no further than Tom Osborne and Urban Meyer – two of the greatest and most powerful college football coaches of our time.

Somebody finally held Hernandez culpable on Wednesday. Too bad it didn’t happen sooner.

Nobody is saying Meyer and Osborne should now be held responsible for the actions of their former players, but it’s certainly fair to wonder how things might have been different if those two players had been held accountable in college.

When Hernandez first signed with Florida as a 17-year-old freshman, he immediately got into a bar fight and sucker punched the bouncer so hard that it busted the man’s ear drum. For some reason, no arrests were made, no charges were filed and no significant disciplinary action was taken. It was almost as if it never happened.

The same with a shooting that happened at Florida in 2007 in which Hernandez was originally considered a suspect. The shooting left two men wounded, including one who was shot in the back of the head. An eyewitness originally identified a man fitting Hernandez’s description as the shooter and another Florida player as an accomplice, but the eyewitness later rescinded his story. When police tried to question Hernandez, he refused and invoked his right to an attorney.

No charges were filed in the attempted homicide case. No arrests were made. Hernandez was never questioned by police. In fact, he was never even questioned by Meyer, who was quoted by the Gainesville Sun as saying that an assistant coach told him about the incident “and I didn’t think about it again.”

I guess when you’re in the business of winning Southeastern Conference championships, you hear no evil and see no evil. When you’re trying to outsmart Nick Saban, who has time to question players about their part in an attempted homicide investigation?

Hernandez, like Phillips more than a decade before, would go on to help his coach and his college win the ultimate prize – the national championship.

Phillips became the poster boy for the enabled college criminal back in 1996 when he was arrested and pled guilty to dragging his girlfriend down three flights of stairs by the hair and then bashing her head into a mailbox.

He pleaded no contest to the charges and, after a six-game suspension, Osborne had him back in the starting lineup just in time to run for 165 yards and three touchdowns in the national championship game.

After a short and troubled NFL career, Phillips became the criminal everybody knew he was in college. In 2009, he was sentenced to 31 years in a California prison for battering his live-in girlfriend, stealing her car and angrily trying to run over three teenagers in a dispute after a pick-up football game.

And now, within days of Hernandez being convicted of murder, Phillips is being accused of it.

Katherine Redmond, a student at Nebraska when Phillips played there and later founder of the nonprofit National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, said Osborne actually did Phillips a disservice by keeping him on the team.

“They took a very troubled kid and gave him protection from accountability,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

Sadly, in the world of big-time college football, star players are taught to believe that they are above the law and can get away with just about anything.

Thankfully, as miscreants like Aaron Hernandez and Lawrence Phillips are finding out, that’s not quite how it works in the real world.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.