We immerse ourselves in sports for many reasons. For the sports fan, it’s far more than entertainment; it’s an all encompassing passion that has us cheering unconditionally for our favorite teams regardless of the circumstances. We spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on merchandise and we do whatever we can to make ourselves a part of the team. That passion also has us checking various sports-related websites before we’re even fully awake in the morning. We have alerts set on our cellphones so we know exactly when news has broke. We compare the heroes of today with those of the past and we debate endlessly with each other over what the future will bring.
There is one part of sports where we can’t fall on different sides of the argument though–numbers. Numbers occur and are hard to debate. (Aided by performance enhancements or not) Barry Bonds hit 763 homeruns. The Miami Heat won their second-consecutive NBA Championship with a 4-3 series victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Whether you agree with the way participants in the title games are chosen or not, the Florida Gators football program has won three National Championships. Those numbers happened. We witnessed them and there’s no way to erase them. Even when we attempt to delete them due to sanctions handed down, we know they really occurred.
As Aaron Hernandez’s story continues to be written there are many numbers that will be focused on. One of those might be 11. In the fourth quarter of the 2013 AFC Championship game, New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady completed a pass to Hernandez. The former University of Florida star tight end gained 11 yards. Those 11 yards may turn out to be the last yards he ever gains in the NFL. That number and others will be discussed. The career that could have come and the statistics he could have achieved will be debated. Many will wonder what could have become of Aaron Hernandez the football player. Few will focus on one of the most important and saddening number of the entire story–27.
I started dating the woman who would become my wife when I was 27. In the seven years since then, we bought our first house together, got engaged, got married, and–almost one year ago–brought our amazing son into the world. Saying the last seven years have been the best years of my life is not an overstatement. I’ve lived more in those seven years than I had before and look forward to what the next seven will bring. Odin Lloyd won’t get those seven years. He was 27 years old when he was murdered. He won’t get those seven years. He won’t even get one more.
Life is fragile. We can barely make it through a week without hearing how one was cut short needlessly. Tragically, when that story also involves someone as high profile as an athlete or celebrity or other well-known personality, we hear too much about that person and not the victim. If we didn’t already know the victim, we may never truly discover who they were. Odin Lloyd’s tragedy will be well-documented, but not always from the right angle. The story will be sensationalized to focus on Aaron Hernandez’s role. From time to time, a piece will pop up that will make us think more about Lloyd and what could have become of the 27-year-old semi-professional football player–like this one–but those pieces will be few and far between. We may never learn much about the 27 years Lloyd spent in this world, but we’ll surely be presented with a detailed account of Hernandez’s remaining years.
At 27, you’re still figuring out what to do with your life. At least I was. When I turned 27, I enjoyed many things about my life. What I didn’t know was how much more I would enjoy the future. I was naive in thinking it would only get better, but at the same time I was somewhat of a prophet because it has. We’ll never know what the future would have brought for Lloyd. Maybe happiness. Maybe despair. To steal a line, it could have been the best of times or the worst of times. Or, probably more accurately, it could have been both.
A few short months after I married the love of my life, I lost my mother. My mother, teacher and best friend passed away on November 27, 2009. There’s that number again–27. She encouraged my obsession with sports from an early age. She put up with a son that read her box scores and statistics that she never wanted to know. Her life was cut short after an eight-month battle with Leukemia. It wasn’t fair then and it isn’t fair now. That number–27–sticks out to me and always will because of the day that I lost her. There was no November 28 for my mother. There is no 28th birthday for Odin Lloyd.
We’ll always remember Aaron Hernandez. That was already a certainty for Florida Gators’ fans. Now it’s a certainty for all sports fans and even those outside of that realm. We’ll know him like people across the world know O.J. Simpson. Whether he is guilty or innocent, we’ll remember this one instance over all others in the life of Aaron Hernandez. But will we remember Odin Lloyd?
I hope we will. I hope that months from now, years from now we talk of a life that could have been. I hope we wonder what the next seven years would have brought Lloyd. I hope we think of his family and friends. I hope the tragic loss of life at a young age is what we remember. I hope we won’t forget what we often do–that there are victims as well as killers. I hope for all of this just like Odin Lloyd hoped for a better life, or at the very least more life. Lloyd’s hopes have ended; there is no tomorrow for him. But we can choose to remember him and what he may have hoped for. We can think about the 27 years he was given and dream about what he would have done with those that were taken away.