Aaron Hernandez and the company he kept

Aaron Hernandez’s conviction on first-degree murder charges in the death of Odin Lloyd – the culmination of a horrifically violent year for the NFL – is more complex than you would think, my luncheon companion said.

At first glance, it would appear to be an open-and-shut case of the proverbial man who had everything and lost it.  But this was no one-yard-line fumble in the Super Bowl. This was a one-yard-line fumble in the Super Bowl of life, the instance of a man who had a $40 million contract as a tight end with the New England Patriots and – Well, let’s call it as it is, shall we? – pissed it all away. When I think of the people I know with nothing or little whose lives would be transformed by a fraction of that money, I could weep.

But then there’s a lot about the Hernandez story to make you weep.

Partly it’s the cautionary tale of Being Careful of The Company You Keep – not just the company back in the ‘hood in Bristol, Conn. but the one you encounter up the food chain. It’s the story of a drug user with a hair-trigger temper and reflexes who must, of course, bear the ultimate responsibility for his actions. But it’s also a lesson in a system that protected a troubled high school and college athlete – rather than take the time and do the hard work of confronting his problems – because he was considered too talented (and potentially lucrative) to fail.

Former University of Florida Coach Urban Meyer led Hernandez in Bible study. Meyer also coached Tim Tebow. We knew Tim Tebow. Aaron Hernandez was no Tim Tebow.

Finally, Hernandez’s story – he’s also been indicted in two other murders – is about a sport and a culture that is inured in violence.

Now he’s going to spend the rest of his life behind bars for taking a life. You have to wonder if he wishes he could go back to the moment before his life changed forever. After the verdict, my lunchtime companion said, Hernandez looked so lost. He’s supposed to be on suicide watch.

You feel, of course, for the victims of violence, for their friends and families. It’s only natural. But is it wrong and unnatural to feel for the murderer as well?

In my debut novel, “Water Music,” tennis star Alí Iskandar feels only compassion for the deranged fan who stabs him. And in my upcoming novel, “The Penalty for Holding,” troubled star quarterback Quinn Novak must cope with backup QB Nero Jones being arrested and convicted of gun possession. The experience leaves Nero traumatized.

“I didn’t hurt anyone,” he sobs to Quinn, “but myself.”