(SportsNetwork.com) - Hyperbole can be a powerful device whether it's in print or the spoken word, but those making exaggerated claims should temper themselves.
The NFL's off-the-field problems over the past year have been well documented, but allegations that the behavior of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy or Adrian Peterson -- as despicable as each of those incidents may have been -- combined to produce the low-water mark for the league's reputation conveniently forgets pariahs like Rae Carruth or Jovan Belcher, and perhaps most of all, likely serial murderer Aaron Hernandez.
Hernandez's tortured tale reached a fitting conclusion in a Fall River, Massachusetts, courtroom on Wednesday when the former New England Patriots star was found guilty of first-degree murder in the June 2013 killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.
Hernandez, now 25, reacted stoically as the jury forewoman read the verdict, which carries with it a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
It was a final nod toward Hernandez's warped existence, one which placed "reputation" above all else.
Hernandez's mother, Terri, and his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, were left to act like real people, weeping and gasping after hearing the verdict.
Hernandez later mouthed to them: "Be strong. Be strong."
To those of us on the outside looking in at this, Hernandez had it all. He was a 23-year-old star, fresh off a monstrous $40 million contract extension with one of the NFL's marquee teams, who lived in a beautiful home with the fetching Jenkins and his baby.
The troubled kid from Bristol, Connecticut, the same guy who was vilified for his persistent marijuana use at the University of Florida, along with the inability to control a scary temper, had his validation.
Or did he?
Hernandez's personal shortcomings were apparent dating back to his days with the Gators. The persistent weed use, now amped up with PCP, the inability to control that temper, and his "friends" from Bristol, the kind of undesirables who made the coaches in Gainesville and around the NFL nervous.
Hernandez's obvious flaws were enough to turn a first-round talent into a fourth-round draft pick by the Patriots back in 2010.
One NFL scout revealed his team's pre-draft file on Hernandez to the Boston Globe. It read: "Self-esteem is quite low; not well-adjusted emotionally, not happy, moods unpredictable, not stable, doesn't take much to set him off."
John Steinbeck couldn't have foreshadowed any better.
Hernandez orchestrated the murder of Lloyd, whose body was found in a North Attleborough, Massachusetts, industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez's home on June 17, 2013.
The state never really put together a clear-cut motive for the hit, but it's not hard to play connect the dots.
When Hernandez was arrested, reporters started digging and a photo surfaced of him at 17 flashing gang signs associated with the Bristol Bloods street gang, all while dressed head-to-toe in red clothing.
While most of us assume everyone has the same kind of dreams -- to be financially secure with a loving family and friends -- the gang-culture's thought process is far darker.
It's still about respect and reputation, but not from any conventional source like a significant other or an offspring. It's all about impressing your "real family," the other members of the gang. And if you don't get the aforementioned respect or garner the rep you "deserve," a third "R" comes into play -- retaliation.
And Lloyd dared disrespect a man with a fondness for using firearms. The talk was Hernandez went to a Boston nightclub days before the murder and saw Lloyd chatting with people Hernandez "had troubles with," or perhaps talking out of turn about an earlier double-murder Hernandez also is accused of committing, one in which the victims were targeted after one spilled a drink on the hot- headed tight end.
A day before Lloyd's death, Hernandez summoned Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz from Bristol to help him kill Lloyd. Video surveillance from several sources showed Lloyd getting into a silver Nissan with Hernandez and the two other men in Dorchester, before arriving at the industrial park shortly before his murder.
During the ride to his eventual execution, Lloyd seemed to understand he was in trouble, texting his sister moments before he was shot six times execution- style.
"Did you see who I am with?" Lloyd wrote shortly after 3 a.m., before answering himself with two chilling messages right before being killed: "NFL." and "Just so you know."
Night workers at the industrial park heard gunshots between 3:23 and 3:27 a.m. and a few minutes later, surveillance video at Hernandez's home showed him walking through the house with a Glock .45 semiautomatic in his hand.
You do the math -- four men got into the car and three arrived back at the Hernandez home, with one of them holding the probable murder weapon that was never found.
The prosecution overcame the lack of eyewitnesses with a mountain of circumstantial evidence that forced the defense to alter its narrative and stipulate that Hernandez was indeed at the murder scene and witnessed a PCP- rage killing by either Wallace or Ortiz.
The Hail Mary defense proved to be just that as Hernandez will spend the rest of his days as inmate No. 174954 in the Massachusetts penal system, at least somewhat satiated and happy to trade that $40 million for the illusion of being hard and earning the respect he has always "deserved."
And that's a myth worth exposing.
The Patriots have tried to whitewash Hernandez's very existence. They cut him hours after he was arrested, instituted a jersey buyback and deleted every mention of him from the team's web site.
That's a mistake, though.
We should never forget Aaron Hernandez or what he represents. Otherwise we are always in danger of creating a Doppelganger.
As a society, we put NFL players on a pedestal, one that should be reserved for those who earn that spot with skills and actions that have nothing to do with athleticism.
To most, this is a tragedy on the level of Macbeth or Othello. To me, it's a valuable learning tool.
When you live like Aaron Hernandez did, you are going to end up in one of two places -- dead or incarcerated. And that's an outcome that deserves no honor or reverence in any culture.