Daniel Kelly: Aaron Hernandez - One Of The Greatest Preachers Of Our Time - John 3:16

Just the mention of his name brings something out of people. It invokes judgement. It invokes all sorts of emotions. There’s no grey area with Aaron and I think that’s what his life demands, it demands us to get off the fence. It demands us to get off the fence about homosexuality. It demands us to get off the fence about sin. It demands us to get off the fence about suicide. It demands us to get off the fence about grace. It demands us to get off the fence about forgiveness. It demands us to get off the fence about Jesus Christ.

You are about to read something that will penetrate your soul every bit as much as did Aaron Hernandez’s infectious smile, which is now frozen in time. His meteoric rise was just as fast as his meteoric fall. From the first time I saw Aaron play ball at the University of Florida, he immediately jumped off the screen at me, just as did his teammate, Tim Tebow. Ironically, Tim wore “John 3:16” eye black in college and it was Aaron who, years later, would use that same scripture as his parting shot to the world.

I’m going to come out and say it, Aaron Hernandez is one of the greatest preachers of our time.
I’m going to just let that line sit there all by itself. I’m going to let that line really sink in. I’m going to let that line bring out of you what it brings out of you. I’m going to let that line perhaps really piss you off. I’ve been taught by my wife Samantha that when things come out of me, they were in me way before I met her four years ago. Sure, maybe she did or said something that brought out my anger and my rage, but really that was already inside of me. So, what is it really about Aaron Hernandez that does what it does within you? Forget Aaron for a moment. Aaron is just a fill in the blank that’s drawing things out of you. Aaron is just an excuse. He’s an easy target. What’s really inside of you that’s causing you to feel the way you feel at the mention of his name?

Who is this nut who is writing this article? What makes me qualified to say what I am saying? For starters, Aaron and I have someone in common, the greatest and most successful coach in the history of the National Football League, New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. My interview for a job in pro scouting with the New York Jets came down to me sitting across from Bill Belichick, looking him in the eyes and me convincing him to hire me and of course, Aaron, was drafted by him to play tight end for the Patriots after I worked with Coach Belichick.

From past articles I’ve written, I can imagine most of you are looking for the comments section of the article by now so you can rip me a new one. You are probably all chomping at the bit to spit venom at me on your keyboard. I bet you are dying to take an ax and chop at my resume. I bet you are going to say something vile about the book I wrote, which just happens to be the most controversial book in all professional sports. I bet you can’t wait to verbally rip me to shreds.

Keep reading.

I found out this past week when my wife, Samantha, tried to order me a #81 Aaron Hernandez jersey from the New England Patriots website and that the sale of his jersey is banned in America. They refunded the $140 she spent trying to get me the jersey I wanted to wear. That’s okay, just like Belichick, I too can find a way around the NFL and ordered four different ones from another country for about half of what one would have cost from the Patriots store online. I can’t wait to wear my #81 HERNANDEZ jerseys around town. I can’t wait to represent his name. I can’t wait to tell people my side of the story. I can’t wait to tell people I think he is one of the greatest evangelists of our time and how he has preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ more powerfully than all the windbags who hide behind their theology degrees on any given Sunday.

If you think you have heard or read everything you ever could read about Aaron Hernandez please don’t stop reading because you are about to hear the side of the story that nobody else dares to run, a side of the story that I had to go outside the United States of America to find someone bold enough to run with this.

Aaron Hernandez is only the third person I’ve had the privilege of writing their eulogy. The other two were my daughter, who died of cancer at the age of two and the other was my Grandma, who I was closest to. I pray that someday Aaron’s daughter Avielle gets the chance to read this in her quest to know, really know who her daddy was.

To me, Aaron Hernandez was one of the most polarizing people I have seen in my lifetime. I had to opportunity to evaluate Aaron when he was a Senior at Florida and let me tell you, he had Hall of Fame type talent. He was a fleet and graceful wide receiver in a tight ends body. He was in the mold of a Tony Gonzalez or a Visante Shiancoe. Needless to say, Linebackers were a mismatch in coverage. He went up the seams effortlessly and his receptions were sometimes acrobatic, even breath taking. He only lasted until the 4th round coming out of the University of Florida because of off the field concerns. To me, he should have gone in the top five in the 1st round. When he got to New England and was paired up with the Gronk and it wasn’t even fair to opposing teams. However, there is so much more to Aaron Hernandez than what he did on the field. Football is what Aaron was gifted and blessed to do, but it was not who Aaron was.

By all accounts, Aaron seemed to be very conflicted between what he was raised to become and what he was trying to find. Did he make mistake of killing that man? Sure, that’s well documented. But, trust you and me, I’m not going to be the one to cast the first stone. My skeletons don’t even fit in my closet. If you want to read up on everything that happened off the field, there are pages of it online to riffle and sort through and all that leads to is judgement. I’m here to talk about something much more important. Something, that can actually make us all think and maybe re-think how we think. After all, this is not just another article about sports that’s as lasting as footprints in the sand.

Aaron was poetically, a receiver. He received being sexually abused for years as a child by an older child. He received watching his mom being violently abused from what the accounts read. He received a scholarship to the University of Florida and he received a five-year, $40 million-dollar contract from the New England Patriots. He also received a life sentence after being convicted of murder. However, his final catch was by far, his finest.

It looks to me as a scout and as an evaluator, all things considered, it looks like Aaron Hernandez received grace. It looks like Aaron Hernandez received love. It looks like Aaron Hernandez received forgiveness and yes, it looks like Aaron Hernandez received redemption. He found things that the world could not and did not offer him and he found something man’s system of Old Testament Christianity could not offer him in America’s failed justice system that demands “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It’s a justice system that reforms nobody and a justice system that does nothing to change the past. When I think of Aaron Hernandez, I liken him to a modern-day thief on the cross hanging next to Jesus. In Luke 23:39-43 NIV “One of the criminals who hung their hurled insults at him, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?” We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the end, in that prison cell he hung himself in, Aaron Hernandez found something worth betting his life on that football, millions of dollars and fame could not offer him. He found something he had been looking his entire life for. He found love. He found acceptance for who he really was. Let’s remember, he wasn’t on death row. He could have easily lived another fifty, sixty, seventy years behind bars. The argument is made, “Wouldn’t it been better if he would have chosen to live and he could have evangelized and told inmates about this Jesus?” As any receiver knows you don’t stop running after you catch the ball, no, you run for the end zone and that my friends, is what Aaron Hernandez did. He ran towards the eternal end zone. He ran with everything he had into his Lord and Savior’s arms and threw himself into the mercy of God. I admire the hell out of anyone who bets their life on what they believe. That’s what Aaron did. He bet his life on what he believed in. He saved the best for last and that’s what I will remember Aaron Hernandez for, I’ll remember him best for his parting message to me and to the rest of this world.

It was graphic and it was raw. Aaron Hernandez was hanging naked and lifeless in his prison cell. When prison guards found him, Aaron had written “JOHN 3:16” in red pen on his forehead. He had marked “JOHN 3:16” with a blotch of his own blood in his Bible that lie beside him. He had written “JOHN 3:16” in blood on the wall of his cell.

John 3:16 reads in the NIV Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and Only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Notice it says, “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound too discriminating. In fact, it doesn’t sound discriminating at all. It doesn’t say anything about homosexuals or murderers or bi-sexuals being counted out. It says, “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever. You, me, the guy at the grocery store. Whoever. Furthermore, it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and Only Son.” It doesn’t say, “For God so loved only straights or for God so loved only those who didn’t commit crimes.”

Just like his star-crossed teammate, Tim Tebow, two different lives, but the same message. Just about everyone likes to remember Aaron Hernandez as a murderer, but I’d like to challenge you to think of John 3:16 when you hear, see or think of his name. That’s the way I am going to remember him and by remembering him this way it reminds me there is hope for me too.

Aaron Hernandez, John 3:16.

Daniel Kelly is a former Pro Scout with the New York Jets for four
seasons. He spent his first two seasons as a pro personnel assistant,
his third season working as the Jets special teams scout and his
fourth as the scout of "other leagues." You can learn more about him,
his book and he can be contacted directly by email on his website,