It could have been any NFL star, a 49er or a Raider, holing up inside his mansion, peeping through blinds as squad cars and news vans descend. In recent days, that man was New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

One of his acquaintances, a man named Odin Lloyd, was shot to death last week and evidence links the men during Lloyd's final hours. An investigation by law enforcement in Massachusetts resulted in Hernandez being arrested Wednesday, charged with murder and five other gun charges.

Count this as another deplorable milestone along the NFL path most recently traveled by Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City linebacker who last fall murdered the mother of his child before shooting himself to death.

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2012 file photo, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez reacts during the second quarter of an NFL football game against
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2012 file photo, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez reacts during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Foxborough, Mass. State and local police spent hours at the home of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez on Tuesday June 18, 2013 as another group of officers searched an industrial park about a mile away where a body was discovered the day before. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) (Elise Amendola)

Hernandez's actions are a sign of times in which guns are rampant, athletes are compelled to own them and gang culture — particularly among men of color — shapes youth more pervasively than a pro athlete.

"Hernandez is a marker. He alone is not the problem. He alone is not the issue,'' said Dr. Harry Edwards, the noted sports sociologist who is a consultant for the 49ers.

"He is a weather vane, telling us which way the wind is blowing.''

It's storming in America, and millionaire athletes have little more protection than the rest of us. The NFL, especially, is facing a Category 5 hurricane, contending with concussions, related lawsuits, domestic violence, substance abuse, bullying and sexuality. According to the database maintained by U-T San Diego, at least 28 NFL players have been arrested since Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.

The league is now in midst of its annual Rookie Symposium, wherein it devotes full week to preparing its newest prospects for life in the NFL. Adam "Pacman'' Jones and Maurice Clarett are among those who shared their own wayward experiences.

Consider the symposium a "scared straight'' approach to those more comfortable with muscles than money.

Yet nothing engages folks as well as reality, in real time, which brings us back to Hernandez.

He is in trouble. In the days prior to his arrest, he reportedly destroyed his home security system, had his attorney deliver a shattered cell phone to the cops and also had his home thoroughly cleaned shortly after Lloyd's death — perhaps before his dumped body, with multiple bullet wounds, was discovered by a jogger.

Hernandez, 23, also is facing a civil suit from a former friend who claims the tight end shot him in the face earlier this year.

Hernandez is precisely the kind of at-risk rookie the symposium hopes to address. He was considered first-round talent, winning as a junior at Florida the John Mackey award as the nation's top collegiate tight end. Character concerns led NFL types to project him as a second or third rounder; he reportedly fought a bouncer as a freshman and failed at least one drug test. Some scouts perceived anger issues, some questioned his maturity and others wondered if he had gang ties.

New England in 2010 drafted Hernandez in Round 4. He was productive, teaming with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski to give the Patriots the league's best one-two punch.

Off the field, some within the organization wondered about Hernandez's friends. And on one occasion, he reportedly physically threatened Wes Welker.

Yet the Patriots last summer signed Hernandez to a five-year extension worth as much as $40 million.

And now his career likely is over and his freedom is in peril.

"This could bring the whole Ray Lewis thing back into focus,'' Edwards said, referring to the 2000 trial in which the former Baltimore linebacker plea-bargained out of a murder case. "On some level, it's good to revisit that kind of situation. It forces us to deal with where we're headed as a society. How lucky we have been dodging bullets on the broader issue, as related to our sports institutions.

"We won't be lucky enough to keep dodging those bullets.''

Edwards knows the landscape, having been a college athlete in the 1960s and been an activist for 50 years. In his fourth decade working with the 49ers, he's intimately familiar with cases involving NFL players and violence, including those involving guns.

He can talk about the Lewis case, the Belcher case, the Plaxico Burriss case and the achingly tragic case of former Carolina receiver Rae Carruth, convicted more than a decade ago of arranging the drive-by shooting death of the mother of his unborn child.

"We have to look at the circumstances from which these young men are from,'' Edwards said. "So many of these guys, the first thing they do after they get a contract is find a place to live and buy a car. And the third thing they get is a gun.''

Studies reveal that most NFL players own guns. Hernandez, believed to own several, is being sued for shooting one man and is being prosecuted for the execution-style death of another.

There is no reason to believe there won't be others who follow this path, maybe more than we care to imagine.

         Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/1montepoole