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Gazette Premium Content KLEE: In light of Aaron Hernandez case, NFL teams must revisit security measures

by name Newspaper - Published: June 28, 2013

DENVER - In the months leading up to the NFL draft, teams and their scouting departments perform exhaustive background checks of prospects on their draft board.

From mom and dad to the high school guidance counselor to the college athletic trainer - everyone gets a phone call.

That's how the process goes, right?

"Actually, you'd be surprised," former Broncos general manager and Air Force graduate Ted Sundquist told me Friday. "It's not quite as thorough as it's made out to be."

What about a quick call to the high school coach?

"Most teams go back that far only if there are red flags."

The terrible, tragic tale of Aaron Hernandez makes me sick. It makes me angry. It makes us mourn the death of Odin Lloyd, a young man murdered in cold blood. He was 27.

Authorities say the murderer was Hernandez; we'll know soon enough if that's true.

It also makes me wonder how the model of a pro sports franchise - the New England Patriots - can agree to a $40-million contract with an employee with this many red flags.

I'm not trying to solve a murder investigation here. I'm trying to figure out if NFL teams know whom it is they are signing to multimillion-dollar contracts.

Shortly after Hernandez was charged with murder, TMZ released a disturbing photo of the former Patriots star showing off a Glock handgun.

Now he faces five weapons charges.

According to the website, the photo was taken by Hernandez during his college days at Florida - a good three years before he signed the massive contract with the Patriots.

It's frightening to think the Patriots knew of the photo and his sketchy history and went ahead with a contract big enough to purchase a fleet of yachts in Cape Cod.

It might be more frightening to think the Patriots didn't know.

Meanwhile, Hernandez has been linked to at least one other murder investigation, according to reports.

I asked Sundquist if the Hernandez case would change how teams operate when it comes to knowing all there is to know about their players.

"It's a good question. They may initially," Sundquist said. "(Security) companies may see this as an opportunity. But will teams spend that extra money to go through with it?"

We can't be na?e to think an NFL team can keep watch over 53 members of a roster every minute of every day.

"Michael Vick is a perfect example," Sundquist said. "He was running a dog-fighting ring and no one knew about it."

But if my company is about to invest a guarantee of $16 million in an employee, I would prefer to know if he's flashing a Glock in his downtime.

Are NFL teams doing enough to learn the backgrounds of their young millionaires - and providing the necessary security when they are out on their own?

"I think it has to be a concern. I've talked with friends in the league about this," said Sundquist, who worked for the Broncos for 16 years. "If we're going to make a big deal about the conduct of the players and how it reflects on the NFL, I think you really have to look at what kind of security measures are being taken.

"Is (the answer) employing a full-time security firm? I know that sounds intrusive. But to me, that's a proactive step."

In the NFL, the good guys far outnumber the bad guys.

Just with the Broncos, I can think of a half-dozen players with charitable foundations that light up our world: Mike Adams (Rising Star Foundation), Quinton Carter (SOUL), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC), Quentin Jammer (Jammer Family), Von Miller (Von's Vision), Wesley Woodyard (16 Ways). Zane Beadles with everything.

The list of good will goes on and on, and that's only the Broncos.

Unfortunately, the list of security measures to limit the NFL's bad guys might not be long enough.

"I think we could do more," Sundquist said.

One NFL team configured its locker room in a way that young players must pass the veteran team captains on the way to their locker. This is a case of players policing players.

Another team employed a security officer who would warn players he's known to pop up in a nightclub to monitor their activity.

"But come on," Sundquist said.

"Is that really going to prevent a 23-year-old with all the money in the world from going out to a club where there might be trouble?"

After the tragic death of Darrent Williams, a beloved Bronco who was shot and killed Jan. 1, 2007, the Broncos front office met with a security firm. The Broncos sought information on what could have been done to avoid such a senseless act of violence.

"Darrent did everything he was supposed to do that night," Sundquist said. "He did absolutely nothing wrong."

"Now, would a security team have made a difference that night? I think they could have," Sundquist said. "And if that would have kept Darrent Williams with us, then it's worth every penny of the cost."

I don't pretend to know if the Patriots or their NFL brethren conduct due diligence to avoid tragedy. But there's enough evidence to have the conversation, at least.

"It's sad that it got to this point," Sundquist said. "Maybe it's a wake-up call."

The value of a life can't be measured in dollar signs.

But in a billion-dollar business like the NFL, all the security possible seems to be worth every last cent.

-

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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