Does UF removal of Aaron Hernandez mementos include national title trophy?

The Florida Gators have removed the commemorative brick honoring accused murderer Aaron Hernandez from the southwest end of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

But the massive smudge mark still remains, and probably always will.

No matter how hard the Gators scrub and scour with their magic eraser, they will never be able to delete the stain and stigma of Hernandez. Nor should they even try.

Last I checked, universities taught American history, not revisionist history. You simply can't pretend Aaron Hernandez never existed.

"We didn't feel it was appropriate to celebrate Aaron Hernandez," UF said in a prepared statement. "We put together an immediate plan after the initial news broke to remove his likeness and name in various private and public areas in the facility, such as the South Endzone team area, locker room, football offices, Heavener Complex Kornblau Lobby and the brick display entrance to the football facility."

Translation: Aaron Hernandez? Who's he? Never heard of him!

I get that this is a PR move on UF's part in an attempt to distance the university from Hernandez, but it just seems like UF and former coach Urban Meyer are both now sailing down a river called denial. If university officials are going to remove Aaron Hernandez' photographs and memories, are they also going to return all of those clutch third-down receptions he made during that national title season in 2008? And are they also going to give back that BCS championship trophy that they never would have won without him?

A jury will decide whether Hernandez is a murderer, but we don't need any more evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the greatest tight end in school history. He is the first and only UF player to earn consensus All-America honors at tight end and win the John Mackey Award honoring the nation's top tight end. These are the facts, and they are indisputable.

When O.J. Simpson was arrested for murder, Southern Cal continued to display his Heisman Trophy although it was later stolen from the athletic lobby (probably by one of Urban Meyer's recruits). While it may be sad and sickening that Hernandez is an alleged murderer and might go down as the most disgraced professional athlete in history, he didn't kill anybody while he played for the Gators. In fact, he was never even officially arrested.

It's too late now for the Gators and Meyer to separate themselves from Hernandez. If they wanted to remove Hernandez from their midst maybe they should have done it when he first arrived on campus; when one of his first acts as an incoming freshman was to get into a bar fight and sucker punch a bar employee so hard that it burst the poor guy's ear drum.

Or if the Gators were really concerned about Hernandez's off-the-field issues maybe Meyer should have been more diligent when Hernandez and three other Gator players were questioned in an attempted murder case back in 2007 – a case that still remains unsolved. Meyer told the Gainesville Sun recently that he was told by an assistant coach his players were questioned as witnesses in the shooting and "I didn't think about it again until a couple of days ago."

If Meyer is telling the truth then he essentially ignored a police report in which one eyewitness originally identified Hernandez as a potential suspect in the Gainesville shooting that wounded two, including one victim who was shot in the back of the head. Hard to believe a micro-managing football coach like Meyer would simply ignore four of his most talented players being questioned in an attempted murder case. And wouldn't a coach who claims to be a father figure to his players at least ask his kids what happened that night?

But now Meyer, too, is trying to distance himself from Hernandez. At Big Ten Media Days earlier this week, as Meyer was being grilled about the discipline and criminal issues of his players at Florida and now at Ohio State, he never referenced Hernandez by name. When the subject was broached, Meyer would only refer to Hernandez as "a player (who) played for us … four years ago."

That player helped Meyer win a national championship.

That player was a consensus All-American.

That player was the best tight end in the country.

His name is Aaron Hernandez, and, yes, he played for the Florida Gators.

Removing his brick, taking down his picture and expunging his name won't change that.

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

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