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Sports columns

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Plenty of blame to go around

Let’s play the blame game. Within this all too familiar instant and enticing human reaction is a whirlwind of raw emotion, changing characters and cautionary tales. The topics at hand will be professional and collegiate athletes.

Most know of the current billboard model of athlete-gone-awry by way of the New England Patriots. In the aftermath of Aaron Hernandez’s murder trial, the finger-pointing at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer (who coached Hernandez at Florida) has led both parties to publicly wash their hands of this issue.

In the court of law, no crime was committed by these two men. But we all know the court of public opinion can say otherwise.

Were Kraft and Meyer enablers? Did they spend too much energy preparing and developing athletes for the limelight of competition and too little on what happens beyond the stadium walls?

The answers, much like the issue at hand, are not so clear. There are many factors that contribute to an athlete’s ultimate performance in the game and in life.

By now, we have all shaken loose our naive thinking that sports are as pure as a midsummer Little League game. The corruption and greed surrounding athletics have led many adults to overlook the failings of children in the name of winning a game. This type of environment can create entitlement issues and severe lack of accountability.

Enablers come in different shapes and sizes, but all have one thing in common: they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from an athlete’s success.

The most dangerous of these can arrive from the inner circle. Anyone’s failure to break loose from troubled childhood friends most likely will increase the odds of trouble in adulthood. The draining of finances and deterioration of sober-minded reasoning and values are all threats that come with this twisted aspect of staying true to your past.

Does parental control – or lack of parental control – play a role? The home is where values are instilled. Parents are, after all, charged with raising a child, and most likely are the first to impart proper discipline or instill pain.

An athlete stands a better chance of bypassing the shady, money-grabbing agents, coaches and friends if provided the proper foundation to build a solid core into adulthood.

Indeed, there is plenty of blame to spread around. Each troubled-athlete tale offers different circumstances and results though.

Among the many coddled athletes coming up through the ranks, few face life sentences or find themselves caught up in scandal. From the public point of view, their major infraction is failing to live up to the pampering.

Many have overcome unsettled home lives and mistakes from their past. There is not one factor or sport we can pin these issues on.

Hernandez and former Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely, who was accused of murder in 2012, performed in different sports at different levels, yet could wind up with similar fates.

Sports certainly play a part in the troubling stories we find in the daily news. They hardly are the start, however.

Perhaps the corrupted aspects of the sporting world amplify the honed behaviors of these athletes. Behind the Huguely case was a narrative of an athlete overcome by violent rages and alcohol – issues as often associated with college campuses as the sport of lacrosse, which like the NFL now, was unfairly besieged with image questions a few years after the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case.

Behind a host of athletes in trouble is a trail of overlooked misdeeds, unsteady upbringings and bad crowds.

In the end, though, who will face the consequences of those factors? Who will stand before the judge in the court of law? Whose legacy will be impacted?

That’s where we can place most of the blame.