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Chad Pemberton: Distractions in New England a bizarre topic

Jun. 23, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

I've been writing about the NFL in this space for almost two years. During that time I've written on a lot of different topics. Concussions, performance-enhancing drugs, terrible quarterbacks, the case for the non-quarterback MVP, fantasy football and pretty much anything else that can be talked about during an NFL season.

And, I've written about players who committed suicide, players who have been arrested, players who have found redemption from an alleged murder and players who have found themselves unanimously unwanted from any NFL teams.

Also, I've made lots of predictions (some of which turned out to be embarrassingly wrong) and tried to elevate the ways we discuss the players and sport we so obsessively follow.

One column I've never written, however, and one I thought I'd never write, is about a bunch of distractions in Massachusetts ranging from frivolous to unexpected to disappointing and truly harrowing. All of it pluming like smoke stacks from the New England Patriots' organization, beckoning members of the media to come see the fire, help it stay ablaze, to feel the warmth. This doesn't happen often.

Here's some context before I dive into the deep end of New England's genuinely weird off season. The Patriots' off season has been so bizarre that signing Tim Tebow has turned into a legitimate afterthought. That's no easy feat considering how much Tebow-mania dominates the NFL's discourse in spite of all rational thought, and, you know, the fact that he's not a good quarterback and doesn't even play. Tebow is the cultural manifestation that being popular is not the same as being good. He was eighth in the NFL in best-selling jerseys despite attempting only eight passes last season. I think that pretty much says it all.

Let's start with the weirdest. At a June 13 awards gala Patriots owner Robert Kraft claimed that Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, took his Super Bowl ring when he was visiting Putin with a business delegation in 2005. This might or might not be true. (I like to pretend that it is.) Putin says it was a gift; Kraft says he was pressured into giving it away. All I know is I'm so ready to read a piece of investigative journalism on what might or might not have happened.

Now for the disappointing and harrowing. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the tight end duo who combined for 56 touchdowns since they came into the league in 2010, are at the nadirs of their young careers.

Gronkowski recently had surgery on his back to repair a herniated disk. The rehab for that kind of surgery is generally 12 weeks (half of that time healing, the other half getting back into good enough shape to resume play). The timetable puts Gronkowski's return right up to Week 1, and that's assuming he doesn't experience any setbacks. It's worth mentioning that Gronkowski has had four other surgeries in the past eight months on his forearm, which he broke in November and then again in January; the last two surgeries were to clean out an infection.

Hernandez's troubles are more serious. At the time of writing this, according to multiple media outlets, Massachusetts authorities are expected to file an arrest warrant on Hernandez for obstruction of justice in connection with a homicide investigation.

The events surrounding the past week are very unusual. On Monday, the body of Odin Lloyd was found about one mile from Hernandez's home. On Tuesday, police searched Hernandez's home and removed boxes. A lawsuit alleging Hernandez shot a man in February was refiled in a Florida court on Thursday. Reports surfaced that Hernandez's security system and cell phone were intentionally destroyed, and that a team of cleaners was hired on Monday to clean Hernandez's home.

It's way too early to determine Hernandez's exact involvement, and it would be brazen and irresponsible to imply guilt in any way, but this situation is definitely worth monitoring. I'm afraid of what we might find out about Hernandez's involvement.

It's the first weekend of summer, but New England coach Bill Belichick might want to leave the sleeves on his hoody for a little while longer before snipping them off. Winter is coming.

Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at pemberton@herald-dispatch.com.

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