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In the end, Aaron Hernandez squandered his talent, his opportunity


The short, violent life of Aaron Hernandez ended Wednesday when he turned his final act of aggression on himself. Hernandez, the former tight end of the New England Patriots and the Florida Gators, died of an apparent suicide Wednesday morning.

And in the end, the final tragedy was the way he threw it all away.

He was young, and he was rich, and he had a family and a big house. He was talented and on his way to being famous. In the end, none of it mattered to Hernandez, who seemed to prefer the thug lifestyle to making catches and scoring touchdowns. He signed a $40 million extension with the New England Patriots. But Hernandez was convicted of one murder (and he was found not guilty on two others).

The final questions about Hernandez are these: How much would have been enough to make him honorable? Who could have gotten to him? Will we ever know?

Even today, after he committed suicide, it has to feel badly for Hernandez. But you can feel badly for the lost talent, and the wasted opportunity, of a young man  who took his good fortune and tossed it into the street. There are a lot of players in the NFL who have overcome worse backgrounds than Hernandez had.

Hernandez seemed drawn to violence with more fervor than he was drawn to end zones. When he was at Florida, he hit a waiter so hard he punctured his eardrum. Police suspected he was the person who had shot into a bar.

Football wasn’t never enough for Hernandez. Nor was fame. Nor was the bond of teammates. Hernandez never wavered from his path of destruction. Think of his teammates: Tim Tebow and Tom Brady. Think of his coaches: Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick.

Some men cannot be changed, however. Some men warm themselves with trouble. Some men cannot turn away from the chaos.

Hernandez was that way. He simply could not turn away from violence.


Convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez commits suicide in prison

Former New England Patriot and University of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, just days after a legal victory, killed himself in his cell early Wednesday morning.

Hernandez, serving a life sentence without parole, was acquitted in a double-homicide last week. His attorney pledged to fight his prior conviction and expressed confidence that Hernandez, 27, would be free again.

The attorney, Jose Diaz, said he did not believe Hernandez committed suicide. He would conduct his own investigation, Diaz said.

Hernandez hanged himself with his bedsheet, authorities said.

A fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Florida, Hernandez caught 175 passes in three seasons. At one point, he signed a $40 million extension with the team. Upon his arrest, the Patriots released him.

Former Florida coach Urban Meyer attempted to distance himself from Hernandez.

Relating or blaming these serious charges to the University of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible,” Meyer said last week.

Our staff, myself and our families worked very hard to mentor and guide [Hernandez],” he added.

Ex-Gator Caleb Brantley listed as a victim after being struck by a woman

University of Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley is listed as the victim in a police report after an altercation with a Gainesville woman.

Brantley said the woman, Chelsea Austin, struck him in the face. Austin admitted hitting Brantley, saying he had “disrespected” her. Brantley then pushed her away.

Brantley is listed as 6-3, 307. Austin is 5-4, 110 pounds. She had a cut on her lip, but left with friends. Brantley had no visible injuries.

Brantley was second team all-SEC this year.

Report: Carlos Curbelo target of attack ads over attempted Obamacare repeal

A progressive health care group has its sights set on Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

According to POLITICO, Save My Care, a coalition of progressive health care advocacy groups, has launched a seven-figure television ad buy in seven competitive House districts across the country, including Curbelo’s South Florida district. The ad campaign, according to POLITICO, targets five Republican lawmakers from districts won by Hillary Clinton.

Aside from Curbelo, the ad campaign will focus on California Republican Darrell Issa, Arizona Republican Martha McSally, Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, and California Republican David Valadao. The campaign will also target Florida Republican Brian Mast and New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur. President Donald Trump carried both of their districts.

Save My Care, according to its website, brings together families, advocates and health care providers “to protect the health and financial security of all Americans.” The organization hosted a bust tour, traveling to 23 events to discuss why health are matters with people.

Curbelo is considered a moderate Republican who could be vulnerable in the 2018 mid-term election. According to the recent Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, Curbelo’s district leans six-points toward Democrats. Mast’s district, the report found, leans five-points toward Republicans.

FBI reviews handling of terrorism-related tips

The FBI has been reviewing the handling of thousands of terrorism-related tips and leads from the past three years to make sure they were properly investigated and no obvious red flags were missed, The Associated Press has learned.

The review follows attacks by people who were once on the FBI’s radar but who have been accused in the past 12 months of massacring innocents in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, injuring people on the streets of New York City, and gunning down travelers in a Florida airport. In each case, the suspects had been determined not to warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny months and sometimes years before the attacks.

The internal audit, which has not been previously reported, began this year and is being conducted in FBI field offices across the country. A senior federal law enforcement official described the review as an effort to “err on the side of caution.”

The audit is essentially a review of records to ensure proper FBI procedures were followed. It’s an acknowledgment of the challenge the FBI has faced, particularly in recent years, in predicting which of the tens of thousands of tips the bureau receives annually might materialize one day into a viable threat.

Investigations that go dormant because of a lack of evidence can resurface instantly when a subject once under scrutiny commits violence or displays fresh signs of radicalization. FBI Director James Comey has likened the difficulty to finding not only a needle in a haystack but determining which piece of hay may become a needle.

Though there’s no indication of significant flaws in how terrorism inquiries are opened and closed, the review is a way for the FBI to “refine and adapt to the threat, and part of that is always making sure you cover your bases,” said the law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

The pace of the FBI’s counterterrorism work accelerated with the rise of the Islamic State group, which in 2014 declared the creation of its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq and has used sophisticated propaganda to lure disaffected Westerners to its cause. By the summer of 2015, Comey has said, the FBI was “strapped” in keeping tabs on the group’s American sympathizers and identifying those most inclined to commit violence.

Social media outreach by IS has appealed to people not previously known to the FBI but also enticed some who once had been under scrutiny to get “back in the game,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

“The fact that there was a physical location and a caliphate announced, it helped kind of drive folks back in when they might have drifted away,” Hughes said.

The review covers inquiries the FBI internally classifies as “assessments” — the lowest level, least intrusive and most elementary stage of a terror-related inquiry — and is examining ones from the past three years to make sure all appropriate investigative avenues were followed, according to a former federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the process.

Assessments are routinely opened upon a tip — whether from someone concerned about things such as activity in a neighbor’s garage, a co-worker’s comments or expressions of support for IS propaganda — and are catalogued by the FBI. The bureau receives tens of thousands of tips a year, and averages more than 10,000 assessments annually.

FBI guidelines meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase.

Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches, and can conduct interviews. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime or national security threat. The guidelines explicitly discourage open-ended inquiries and say assessments are designed to be “relatively short,” with a supervisor signing off on extension requests.

Many assessments are closed within days or weeks when the FBI concludes there’s no criminal or national security threat, or basis for continued scrutiny.

The system is meant to ensure that a person who has not broken the law does not remain under perpetual scrutiny on a mere hunch that a crime could eventually be committed. But on occasion, and within the past year, it’s also meant that people the FBI once looked at but did not find reason to arrest later went on to commit violence.

In the case of Omar Mateen, that scrutiny was extensive, detailed and lengthy.

Mateen, who shot and killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June, was investigated for 10 months in 2013 and interviewed twice after a co-worker reported that Mateen had claimed connections to al-Qaida.

As part of a preliminary investigation, agents recorded Mateen’s conversations and introduced him to confidential sources before closing the matter. That kind of investigation is more intensive than an assessment and permits a broader menu of tactics, but it also requires a stronger basis for suspicion. Mateen was questioned again in 2014 in a separate investigation into a suicide bomber acquaintance. Comey has said he has personally reviewed that inquiry’s handling and has concluded it was done well.

The FBI in 2014 also opened an assessment on Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who last September was charged in bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey, based on concerns expressed by his father. The FBI said it closed the review after checking databases and travel and finding nothing that tied him to terrorism.

Esteban Santiago, the man accused in the January shooting at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, airport that killed five people, had also been looked at by the FBI. He had walked into the bureau’s office in Anchorage, Alaska, two months earlier and claimed his mind was being controlled by U.S. intelligence officials. In that case, too, the FBI closed its assessment after interviewing family members and checking databases.

Each act of violence has raised questions about whether the FBI missed signs or should have been more aggressive in its investigation. With thousands of assessments pouring in, those decisions aren’t easy.

“If you’re looking at all the cases, if everything’s blinking red, you have to make a judgment call every time,” Hughes said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Quarterback competition to highlight Gators’ spring football game

The defense has been rebuilt. Definitely, Gator fans are going to want to check it out.

Oh, and the play-makers are better at wide receiver. Those will be fun to see.

The offensive line is better. And the running game is solid. And …

Oh, never mind. You want to see the quarterbacks, don’t you?

If there is one overwhelming point of interest to this year’s Gators, who have their spring game tonight, it is the quarterbacks. With returner Luke Del Rio out, the competition has boiled down to two quarterbacks: Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. One or the other of them has a chance to be the quarterback the Gators have been looking for since Tim Tebow left.

“I will say I’m excited how they’re playing,” coach Jim McElwain says. “It’s been good, we’ve been able to stretch it really good.

“They’ve done a great job, and yet, I kind of expected them to.

Franks threw three interceptions in last year’s spring game. This year, with increased knowledge of the offense, Gator fans can expect a smoother quarterback. He has shortened his release and improved on his decision making.

Whether it is Franks or Trask – and the job is just beginning – the Gators hope to have more of an impact player at the position than in the last two seasons.

Florida welfare recipients could face tougher sanctions

People who receive cash assistance from the Florida government and fail to comply with work requirements could be left without money for a longer time.

A House panel on Thursday advanced a bill (HB 23) that would toughen sanctions for individuals who do not work toward furthering their education or careers while in the program. The vote came over the objections of Democrats, who said it would leave more families hungry and would make it harder for people to get back on their feet.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dane Eagle, challenged those claims, saying the bill is aimed to stop fraud and the “downward spiral of handouts.”

Eagle says the average welfare recipient gets $250 a month. If the bill becomes law, the state would save $2.5 million every year.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.

Alimony legislation dead for 2017, sponsor says

Good news for opponents of this year’s alimony overhaul, and bad news for its supporters: The bills are dead for the year.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the Naples Republican who’s carrying the Senate version (SB 412), on Wednesday said the chair of its first committee of reference has refused to hear the bill. Rene Garcia chairs the Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs.

“Chairman Garcia determined that he was not interested in hearing it and I respect that decision,”  Passidomo said. “I don’t think leadership weighed in on it.”

Garcia was not immediately available for comment after Wednesday’s floor session.

Passidomo also noted the House bill (HB 283), sponsored by Lakeland Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton, also has not gotten a hearing. And with House subcommittees wrapping up work this week, that virtually dooms the legislation there.

Burton was unavailable; the House was still in session Wednesday afternoon.

As filed, the bills would have toughened the standards by which alimony is granted and modified. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

Passidomo, an attorney, said this year’s bills were hobbled by a misunderstanding of their effect.

“That was, that you couldn’t get ‘permanent’ alimony (under the bill) but that’s not really true,” she said. “Someone in a longstanding marriage is still going to get alimony permanently if the court awards it.”

Among other things, the current legislation contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an alimony award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

“This bill would have gone a long way in curtailing some of the gamesmanship” in fighting for and against alimony in court, Passidomo said. “Somebody who is entitled to alimony should get it and the person who needs to pay it should pay it. I’ve never believed in changing that.”

Passidomo said she plans to file the bill again next year.

Gator quarterbacks go through growing pains in first scrimmage

And now, for your latest report on the progress of the Florida Gators‘ quarterbacks:


Freshman Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask both sputtered a bit during the Gators’ first scrimmage, leaving fans to wonder if either will be able to beat out incumbent Luke Del Rio when fall practices begin. An interception in the end zone particularly bothered coach Jim McElwain.

The Gators have been searching for a solid quarterback after being 79th and 86th in the country the last two seasons.

“Both quarterbacks had some real explosive throws, and yet, I think our sense of urgency needs to pick up a little bit at that position,” McElwain said. “We got sloppy with the ball in the read area a couple of times. We’ve got to learn from those things and understand the importance of what we need to do down there.”

McElwain said Franks and Trask were efficient with their deep throws, but had problems hitting open receivers over the middle.

“They did a great job throwing the deep balls, and we missed some intermediate seam throws,” he said. “I thought that was good by the defense in their disguise and what they rolled to. Our pre-snap was good. We missed some seams, inside seams that we should have been able to hit.

“Then we came back and corrected on Saturday. It was good to see. I was disappointed we threw an interception in the red area. That can’t happen, absolutely not, so we’ve got to learn from that. Good play from the defense, but obviously we can’t do that — take away points. We have to do better at that.”

McElwain said he was happy with how well the offense moved the ball with both quarterbacks.

“Our production was actually pretty good in comparison to the past.” he said. “Had some drops. Uncharacteristic. I thought the receivers had drops in big situations, some third-down deals that we needed to execute down in the red area. We’ve got to pick that piece up a little bit.”

Overall, McElwain seemed satisfied with the Gators’ scrimmage.

“There were some really, really good performances and things that stood out, both good and bad,” he said. “Yet, it was the first time I’ve kind of seen them fight through. They played hard throughout the scrimmage.

The Florida spring game is April 7.

Play it back: rematches to decide last two spots in Final Four

The most entertaining college basketball game of the regular season came in December.

Malik Monk set a record for a Kentucky freshman with 47 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer taken against his coach’s wishes, to lift the Wildcats to a 103-100 win over North Carolina.

Are these two ready for an encore?

Of course they are – though it’s a valid argument to say this rematch might be better suited for next weekend in the Final Four than Sunday in the Elite Eight.

“I remember watching them play and I’m thinking, ‘Please don’t put them in our bracket,'” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “And there they are in our bracket.”

Indeed, the South bracket in which Kentucky and Carolina reside was pegged as the toughest on Selection Sunday. The top four seeds made it to the Sweet 16, and the Wildcats and Tar Heels moved within a game of the Final Four with double-digit wins.

North Carolina is a 2 1/2-point favorite in Sunday’s game, which will fill out a Final Four that already includes Gonzaga and Oregon, both of which won Saturday. The first meeting between the Heels and Cats – the late half of a made-for-TV doubleheader in Las Vegas three months ago – now feels like a distant memory.

“I don’t think we’re freshmen anymore,” Monk said. “You can’t use that term anymore because it’s in the tournament now. Nobody looks at that.”

Kentucky trailed 100-98 and Calipari was imploring his young freshman to drive the ball to the hoop in transition. Instead, he pulled up and made the 3 to put the Wildcats ahead for good with 16 seconds left.

“Heck of a college basketball game if you don’t care who won,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said afterward. “But I do care who wins.”

If North Carolina turns the tables, it will give the Tar Heels a return trip to the Final Four after their heartbreaking loss to Villanova in the final last year – on a buzzer-beating 3 by Kris Jenkins. It will also mark a festive send-off for Justin Jackson, who leads Carolina with 18.2 points a game and is expected to call this, his junior year, his last in college.

Kentucky’s list of probable one-and-doners includes Monk, Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox.

“I’m not worried about that,” Fox said. “We’re still playing basketball, so I’m not thinking about leaving. If things go as planned, we still have three games left, so that’s not in my mind right now.”

SPEAKING OF REMATCHES: Sunday’s first game pits familiar foes in an unexpected setting. Florida and South Carolina of the Southeastern Conference will meet at Madison Square Garden for a trip to the Final Four.

“We’re playing a team we know,” said coach Frank Martin, who has led the Gamecocks further through the NCAA bracket than they have ever been. “We’re not playing the moment. We’re not playing a building. We’re not playing the NCAA Tournament. We’re playing the Florida Gators. And our focus should be playing a team that we have played twice.”

In many ways, it was the first meeting – a 57-53 South Carolina win on Jan. 18 – that set the stage for where both teams are today.

The Gators failed to sink a 3-pointer for the first time in 850 games – a streak that began in 1992 and lasted the entire Billy Donovan era. Another loss, three days later, prompted a two-hour team meeting that triggered a nine-game winning streak, including the rematch with the Gamecocks.

But South Carolina’s win over Florida also announced the Gamecocks as a force. It was their third win over a Top 25 team this season, and when it was over, senior Sindarius Thornwell said this: “Before the game, I was saying these are the games you prepare for in your backyard growing up.”

They certainly are. And this next one, too.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

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