The wholesome bliss of your favorite NFL player mugging for the cameras, telling us he's going to hang with Mickey at Disney World, has been replaced by another image involving travel plans.
The Perp Walk.
Football fans should know it well by now. Aaron Hernandez just became the 29th NFL player arrested since the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. They've been accused of a litany of sins, including Michael Boley, formerly with the New York Giants (child abuse); Amari Spivey, Detroit Lions (third-degree assault in an alleged domestic-violence incident involving his girlfriend in Connecticut); and Ausar Walcott, Cleveland Browns (attempted murder for allegedly punching a man outside a bar in Passaic).
Police in North Attleborough, Mass., arrested Hernandez on Wednesday and charged him with the murder of Odin Lloyd, an acquaintance found dead in an industrial park near Hernandez's house. Hernandez also faces five gun-related charges.
The pain and suffering for Lloyd's family becomes a secondary story, as images of a handcuffed Hernandez, dressed in a white T-shirt and red shorts, continue to flash on your TV screen.
His freshly minted mug shot, just like all the other miscreants, does not paint a flattering picture of the NFL.
One word comes to mind:
It's not just an NFL thing. It starts in college and probably even way before then. Talented athletes find out very early in life that they get to play by a different set of rules, one in which misdemeanors and felonies can disappear if you know people who know people.
In a scathing indictment on the reign of former Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer, The Sporting News reported in April 2012 that Hernandez failed a drug test and was suspended for a game as part of the standard punishment at UF. That incident was part of a bigger-picture profile of a team that included Meyer's favorites called "The Circle of Trust."
The Boston Globe also reported Hernandez failed multiple drug tests, possibly as many as six, while at Florida. Who knew that his orange-and-blue urine had nothing to do with school pride?
Hernandez was among four Gator football players questioned about a shooting incident in Gainesville in 2007, although none of them was arrested.
A Pollyanna defense would argue that none of these events are connected. Perhaps so. But common sense leads me in a different direction:
Great players get away with stuff.
It's a parade of all-stars, from Lawrence Phillips, who once dragged a girl down a flight of stairs and slammed her head against a mailbox, to Leonard Little, who got liquored up and killed a man while driving a car in 1998, to infamous dog-killer Michael Vick.
All the PSAs on TV or get-tough press releases from Roger Goodell or any community-service work will not change the culture of sports.
"There's absolutely no question there's that sense of entitlement, but it starts way before the money is paid to the players," Ralph Cindrich, an agent and attorney, once said. "It really starts with the highly recruited high school guys, and the colleges to me are the facilitators of that mentality.
"It's the way they're recruited and what is said. In college, by the time they're seniors, they're just prima donnas."
Is there anyone naive enough to think that Hernandez won't get a shot to play again for another team if he is acquitted?
Hernandez did 'fess up to failing one drug test and said in a prepared statement in 2010: "I regret what happened; I learned from it and will make better decisions going forward."
And that worked out splendidly, as we all know.
America is the land of opportunity and second and third and 19th chances. And it shines brightly on athletes with the darkest tales to tell.
Charles Pierce stated it as eloquently as possible in a recent piece on Hernandez for Grantland.com:
"He's a celebrity. He's armed. Now he's in the middle of a televised freak show. He's the damn American Dream, walking."
I expect you won't see this in Mr. Goodell's next talking-points memo.
Read George Díaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.