Florida Gators Decision to Erase Aaron Hernandez from Memory Falls Flat
Aaron Hernandez is a living, breathing human.
A human that allegedly committed a murder of a man named Odin Lloyd, but nonetheless, a living, breathing human. He is innocent until proven guilty, but in our court of public opinion has already been tried. Given this, it’s understandable why the Florida Gators have taken the first steps in scrubbing his existence from their campus by removing a brick plaquard honoring his accomplishments from outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The New England Patriots have done the same, after all, staging a jersey exchange program in Foxboro to ensure anyone who wants to clean their hands of a uniform bearing his name had the opportunity to do so. Both of these actions have something in common– a collective desire to distance the organization from the tarnished image of a former star to protect the integrity of an image, the integrity of a brand.
I understand this, and hardly dismiss the business value of the decision. To suggest, however, that removing physical artifacts that suggest a connection to an individual with a tarnished image somehow makes everything the person once did disappear into the ether, however, it a suggestion that falls flat on its face.
Let’s use former Penn State Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno as a comparison point. By all accounts, Paterno was aware of the actions of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the majority of which occurred under his watch in State College. Paterno chose not to pass along what he knew to authorities, instead hoping the matter would dematerialize, and all could move on as normal without a hitch.
Obviously, this decision was short-sighted and an image carefully crafted as one of the legends of college football coaching was altered in perpetuity. Penn State immediately removed a newly-dedicated statue from the campus grounds in an initial effort — much like what Florida has done with the Hernandez plaquard — to remove his physical existence from the collective consciousness.
Regardless, there were Paterno “loyalists” who continued to emphasize the positive he did for the program, and will remember him in a certain — perhaps myopic light — regardless of the efforts made to scrub his memory. Sure, this may be an apples to oranges comparison, but the basic facts are the same.
Aaron Hernandez was a highly accomplished football player at Florida.
He helped Tim Tebow and their teammates establish a legacy — which still lasts to some extent — as one of the nation’s most prestigious programs. This will remain true. With the Internet being what it is, his exploits on the field are documented to the nth degree.
Any attempt to protect an image or a brand by removing the positive things a person did for the brand is nothing more than revisionist history. It’s revisionist history that serves a purpose, but nonetheless, falls flat at attempting to erase the memory of an individual who once existed, and will always exist.
It’s good business practice, yes, but don’t believe for one second it has anything to do with changing perception. People will remember what they choose.
It’s human nature.
Simple as that.