Add Panini America to the list of companies that have dropped former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez from their marketing campaigns.
The licensed manufacturer of pro sports memorabilia and trading cards had produced stickers of Hernandez for 500,000 of its sticker books that were supposed to hit shelves soon. According to a report from Darren Rovell of ESPN, the company confirmed Thursday morning that it "painstakingly" removed stickers of the former NFL player before they were released to the public.
Jason Howarth, Panini's vice president of marketing, said it was the right thing to do:
"We felt strongly that making these changes was the right thing to do, for Panini and our products but, more importantly, for our fans and collectors."
Panini, which typically places 10 stickers directly into the books, maintains that it was purely by coincidence that Hernandez was one of the 10 players chosen to be featured on a sticker. In his place, the manufacturer has decided to go with another Patriots player, quarterback Tim Tebow, a former teammate of Hernandez from their college days at the University of Florida. Panini has produced one million stickers of Tebow and they will be handed out at events or given to customers who already received a Hernandez sticker in a pack. Hernandez has already been featured this year in two of Panini's card sets that were made for the upcoming NFL season.
The Patriots cut Hernandez hours after his arrest by Massachusetts police last month. The 23-year-old is being charged with the murder of an acquaintance who reportedly could have had inside information about Hernandez's possible link to a double-homicide in 2012. Electronic Arts and Pro Football Hall of Fame have also taken measures to separate their brand from Hernandez.
A native of Bristol, Conn., Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and five gun-related charges. He remains in solitary confinement in a Bristol County jail. BURKE: Tyrann Mathieu: 'I'll never forget what Mayock said about me'