FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As New England Patriots fans descended on the ProShop adjacent to Gillette Stadium Saturday, their Aaron Hernandez jerseys were folded neatly, crumpled up in a ball, wedged under their arms or stuffed into a bag - and then handed over to be destroyed or recycled.
“I just did not want to be wearing it,” said Scott Richman of Sharon, Mass.
“I think it is the right thing to do,” said Randy Medeiros of New Bedford.
The Patriots figured that would be the sentiment. The team had disassociated itself from Hernandez by releasing him shortly after he was arrested on murder and gun charges June 26. Next, this weekend's jersey exchange was scheduled, giving fans an opportunity to do the same.
The first fan arrived Saturday at 7:30 a.m., 2 hours before the exchange was to begin at 10. At 9:30, the Patriots decided to open the ProShop a half-hour early because a long line had formed around a tent set up for jersey collection. By 11 a.m., 500 exchanges had taken place, and there was a slow but steady stream of fans throughout the afternoon.
In total, approximately 1,200 jerseys were traded. The exchange continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jerseys of the brand and style that were available at the ProShop during Hernandez's three years with the team can be turned in for a voucher that guarantees a jersey of comparable value.
This event further highlighted the fall from grace for Hernandez, the star tight end from Bristol who is charged in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd and is being held in jail without bail. It also elicited conflicting feelings from Patriots fans, who had cheered him just across the Patriot Place complex at the 68,000-seat stadium.
“I feel thankful to the Patriots,” said Jake Mozer of Medfield. “It's all really sad. It's really kind of depressing. He was my favorite player. I had no idea what I was going to do with (the jersey).”
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the Hernandez jerseys that were to be exchanged Saturday and Sunday, as well as the ones the ProShop already had in stock, will be recycled or destroyed. The team has ruled out donating them to a foreign charity and is trying to find a vendor with “a creative way, from recycling purposes, to utilize the materials and fabric,” James said.
The Patriots said the most popular requests among those exchanging Hernandez jerseys Saturday were, in order, Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady, Chandler Jones and Stevan Ridley.
“You don't want to be associated anymore with a player of Hernandez's stature,” Medeiros said. “It's the right thing to do - exchange the jersey and wear the jersey of a player you can actually admire on and off the field. Fans have a pretty personal attachment to these players.”
Medeiros exchanged his girlfriend's Hernandez jersey for a Danny Amendola jersey.
Another fan, Mike McAtamney of Lowell, was out of luck. His Hernandez jersey was not purchased at the ProShop and did not match the style of what was available in 2009-12, so it could not be exchanged.
“I don't know, maybe cut some patches out of it,” he said. “Or, I heard they're selling on eBay, too.”
Hernandez jerseys are selling for $400 online and autographed jerseys have been sold for over $1,000. On Saturday, hundreds of them were tossed into a bin, never to be worn again.
The Patriots are likely to release a final estimate on Sunday of the number of jerseys exchanged. Of the first 1,200, about 300 were children's jerseys. The Patriots had young fans in mind when they planned the event.
In the initial press release, James said, “We know that children love wearing their Patriots jerseys, but may not understand why parents don't want them wearing their Hernandez jerseys anymore. We hope this opportunity to exchange those jerseys at the Patriots ProShop for another player's jersey will be well received by parents.”
The time to proudly wear a Hernandez jersey “has disappeared,” said Matt Singer of Natick, “but this seems like a pretty good deal - especially when you see the little kids.”
Candace Boudreau of Cranston, R.I., was with her three children, Mackenzie, 8; Christian, 5; and Trevor, 2.
“I will not wear the jersey of somebody who has been (charged with) a crime,” she said. “I just bought it (recently), and it's a shame to waste that money. . I don't want (the children) to know anything about it, so I just wanted to exchange it for somebody who is better.”
Exchange choices were limited to what was available in the style the person had the proper voucher for, and size. Mozer selected a Jones jersey.
“He's good, he's young and I don't think he's committed a crime,” Mozer said.
Hartford Courant staff writer Nick Greene contributed to this story.
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