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Saturday, July 6, 2013
Updated: July 7, 9:12 AM ET
Patriots fans flock to jersey trade-in

By Mike Rodak
ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Hundreds of fans flocked to the New England Patriots pro shop at Gillette Stadium on Saturday morning, taking part in a two-day event to exchange jerseys of former tight end Aaron Hernandez for those of current players.

According to a team spokesperson, over 500 jerseys with Hernandez's name were turned in by 11 a.m., about 90 minutes after the pro shop opened its doors. By 5 p.m., the shop had exchanged nearly 1,200 jerseys.

 Aaron Hernandez
Patriots fan Steven McGrath, in his new Rob Gronkowski jersey, said he traded in his Aaron Hernandez jersey at Saturday's event because he felt Hernandez disrespected Myra Kraft.

Hernandez was charged with the murder of 27-year old semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd last month, and was released by the Patriots the same day.

Fans lined up hours before the event began, with Patriots staff checking the authenticity of the Hernandez jerseys before they were placed in a large bin. The team will make an effort to recycle the jersey material, but will not donate the jerseys to a foreign country.

In the first hour, the most popular jersey that fans picked off the shelf belonged to defensive tackle Vince Wilfork -- at a rate of twice as much as any other jersey -- followed by quarterback Tom Brady and defensive end Chandler Jones.

A notice in the pro shop said only jerseys of Wilfork, Brady, and Rob Gronkowski were available in authentic, women's and youth styles. Pro shop staff said a limited amount of Tim Tebow jerseys were available, but they moved quickly.

Season-ticket holder Steven McGrath of Lincoln, R.I., turned in his Hernandez jersey for one of another tight end, Gronkowski. The 25-year old was wearing a Patriots hat with the initials "MHK" on the back, representing Myra Kraft, the wife of owner Robert Kraft, who died in 2011.

"You can't wear a Hernandez (jersey) around here. He disrespected the Patriots way, Robert Kraft, Myra Kraft. You can't disrespect her," he said. "I made a mistake getting a Hernandez (jersey) in the first place. I should have bought Gronkowski, and I wouldn't be here now."

The Patriots encouraged parents to exchange their children's jerseys, and about 20 percent of the jerseys turned in were youth sizes.

Zack Klein, 14, of Newton, Mass., came to the pro shop wearing an Atlanta Falcons jersey of former quarterback Michael Vick, who spent nearly two years in prison on dog fighting charges.

"I support what (Vick) has done now, after. He's come back pretty well," he said. "But I don't support Hernandez."

Klein's brother, Matt, exchanged his Hernandez jersey for one of defensive end Rob Ninkovich.

"People said you could sell (the Hernandez jersey) on eBay for more money. But I just feel like profiting from it personally is sort of a weird concept," he said. "So to come back and exchange it for somebody like Ninkovich is for me a better result."

Within the past two weeks, an authentic Hernandez jersey has sold for as much as $400 on eBay, with autographed jerseys topping $1,200.

Self-described sports jersey enthusiast Christopher Sousa of Somerville, Mass., exchanged five of his Hernandez jerseys on Saturday. In their place, he picked up custom-made jerseys for tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Jake Ballard, but said that he will be keeping one Hernandez jersey in his former collection.

"I liked the player. I was really excited (when Hernandez was drafted). I stocked up on a lot of his jerseys," Sousa said. "One of my favorite players on the team next to Brady. I think it's too bad what he did."

The exchange event will continue through Sunday.