An American Tragedy: A Fallen Star is Dead

Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez listens during his murder trial at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Mass., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Hernandez is accused in the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancée’s sister. (AP Photo/Dominick Reuter, Pool)

Like every other New England Patriots fan — well, let’s make that NFL fan, why don’t we – I woke up to the news this morning that Aaron Hernandez was dead.

Hanged in his prison cell.

Just like that a former star is gone.

He was just 27.

I knew what was coming next. As I bounced around social media and the World Wide Web this morning, I would find a lot of hatred pointed in his direction.

After all, he blew an opportunity 99 percent of us can only dream about – success, money, adoration – and was found guilty of blowing it all by killing a man.

Me?

To be honest, I don’t feel any hatred.

I feel sadness.

Aaron Hernandez was a convicted murderer, yes, and he also killed his golden goose.

But he was also a son, a brother, a father.

As much as people hated him, he was also loved.

So I’m sad to hear this news this morning. For his family. For this whole damn story.

When I moved to Connecticut nearly 10 years ago, Aaron Hernandez was a senior in high school.

I was never a fan. He was a helluva football player, though. The colleges were calling. The NFL scouts was watching. The girls were flocking.

The world was his oyster.

His world was his downfall.

The word I’ve heard a lot today – just heard it on ESPN, in fact – was that Aaron Hernandez wanted to be a gangster more than he wanted to be a football star.

As such, his posse of hangers on weren’t ideal choices and trouble also seemed to follow the talented tight end at many turns.

His father died when he was 16 and things changed, people say.

Instead of going to play football at Connecticut, he opted to go to Florida, a national power.

Warning signals were fired almost immediately.

In 2007, Hernandez was in a restaurant drinking – despite being just 17 – and tried to leave without paying. He threw a punch that landed on a restaurant employee, rupturing the employee’s eardrum.

Later that fall, Hernandez was linked to a shooting of three people in Gainesville.

It was a sign of things to come.

Despite being drafted by the New England Patriots, Hernandez couldn’t escape his darker side.

In 2012 and 13, Hernandez was linked to three more shootings.

One of them – the murder of a man named Odin Lloyd – would begin Hernandez’s downfall.

He would be found guilty and sentenced to live in prison without parole.

Just days ago, he was found not guilty in another shooting.

And now he’s gone.

His story is over, but this story, for now, is just beginning.

People are offering up their opinions – some just flat-out emotional, others with some thought and conviction, others just spouting off at the mouth because they have their own hatred built into their own lives.

Today, the New England Patriots visit the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl championship.

A day of joy has been tinged with some mourning, some anger, some hatred.

Me?

Well, to me the whole story is just sad.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Hernandez family today. Same to Lloyd’s family and the families of any other victims would might have been wronged by the poor choices of a man who made some mistakes.

It’s the end of another American tragedy.

Better Late Than Never: Thank You, Mr. Murphy

Mike Murphy and one of his “angels” from a long ago time. (Photo stolen from Dawn Norton’s facebook page)

I was sitting at the corner of the bar minding my own business when I felt him grab my arm.

“C’mon, John,” Mike Murphy said in his Irish brogue. “I need you.”

The next thing I knew I was standing on the edge of a bar fight with two men awash in alcohol-induced machismo verbally comparing sizes while threatening to throw punches.

This was Mr. Murphy’s Irish pub, not a boxing ring or a college frat house, and from his side of the bar he saw what was happening and cut it off before anything got out of control. I was just along for the ride because if punches were thrown I was likely going to be useless.

But, I’d like to think, Mr. Murphy knew my loyalty to his establishment and if somebody was going to have his back, he knew I was somebody he could trust.

I’ll drink to that, as I am right now as I write this — A toast to a long, lost friend who is now lost for all of time.

Word came today that Mike Murphy had passed away and that news, alone, is sad to hear.

Mike was a nice guy. He had his flaws — who of us doesn’t? — but he had bought me more than my fair share of beers over the seven or so years where I was a regular at his bar in Dover, New Hampshire.

With word of his passing, I also think back to those long ago times and the group Mike Murphy brought together as regulars in his little bar.

I started going there because I was smitten with a bartender — Katherine, was her name, if my memory serves me correctly — and her artwork still hangs in my apartment all these years later, a going away gift for me when she moved on to bigger and better things.

I started going there because of her, but I stayed because of everybody else.

The regular bartender became my roommate, the regular customers became my friends and family. And I loved them deeply and still care for them so much even today.

I would list them all here, but I know i’d leave people out and I don’t want to do that. If you are reading this, then you know who you are.

As individuals, we were all special people. As a group, it was like we were meant to be together as friends at this time of our collective lives.

I’ve had three vastly different sets of close friends in my life, all of which spark a flame inside my heart when I think of them.

My school-aged friends growing up were a part of my formative years. My young adult friends helped me make legendary memories while traversing the world between being a kid and being an adult.

And my New Hampshire friends — my grown up friends — were always there with a hug, a smile, a beer. Sometimes all three.

It didn’t matter the night. Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday. When you walked into Mike Murphy’s bar you were going to see somebody you knew and wanted to catch up with, sitting there, having a beer, or playing pool.

Some nights you would see Mike. Other nights you would not.

But going out was like going home.

The regulars at Mr. Murphy’s pub welcomed me at a time when I had first moved away from home and was, if truth needs to be told, the perfect elixir to the touch of loneliness which was an everyday occurrence in my life.

The friendships spilled outside of the bar, too. That’s why they all rang so true. And, I suppose, that’s what made them all so special.

We shared many different aspects of our lives together. Highs, lows, laughter, tears.

And the occasional hangover.

Yet we kept going back, to be together once again.

We sang together, we danced together.

We drank together, we grew together.

Over time, some of us grew apart and we went our separate ways as different roads and goals led us away from Dover, led us away from Mike Murphy and that special, magical place he created.

Tonight, we are all back together, at least in spirit.

Mike is gone and as word spreads of his passing we mourn knowing that, but we also embrace the memories his death brings forth.

Our friend Joel, in a Facebook post, summed up our loss the best, I think.

“Damn, so sad,” Joel wrote in a comment under a post that shared the sad news with us. “He provided the setting that allowed me to meet so many of my friends. Thanks for everything Mike.”

That’s so true. He provided the setting for all of us to come together and create a time we are surely never to forget.

God speed, Mr. Murphy.

And thank you so much for that bar, that time, and those people you brought together.