With this morning's breaking news of Aaron Hernandez committing suicide in his Massachusetts prison cell, we're re-winding this piece on one of the sports world's most confounding stories ever - a tale of wasted promise and tragedy. Hernandez had gifts and opportunities that most people can only dream off. And he threw it all away. He could not outrun his past, and today, it finally caught up with him. Aaron Hernandez was 27 years old.
As a tight end at Bristol Central High School, and later with the University of Florida Gators and the New England Patriots, the NFL franchise that selected him in the 2010 draft, Aaron Hernandez was known for his ability to race through, over and away from any obstacles on the football field. When he made his professional debut, he was the youngest player on any active NFL roster.
Despite a litany of off-field incidents and numerous failed drug tests in college, his future was pregnant with possibility. If he could walk straight, keep his nose clean and dedicate himself to football, everyone knew that he had a chance to be a special player.
During his second year, the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Giants. But along with Rob Gronkowski, New England looked to have a pair of tight ends that would wreak havoc in the NFL for years to come. They set league records for yardage, receptions and touchdowns that dwarfed anything that any team had produced from the tight end position.
Hernandez seemed indestructible, and his physical gifts and accomplishments elevated him to the crescendo of his violent and savage sport. The strength, speed and escapability that drew gasps from shocked crowds led to him receiving the largest signing bonus ever given to an NFL tight end when he was awarded a contract extension in 2012.
Were this narrative strictly limited to the realm of sports and athletics, we’d be veering towards a Walt Disney-like ending about a kid from a working class Connecticut suburb who went on to become an American king. In a country that revels year-round in the sociopathic violence of the NFL, Aaron Hernandez had it made.
He was 23 years old, handsome, rich and photogenic. He possessed Hall of Fame potential, and if injuries didn’t conspire to thwart that possible destination, if he managed his money and did the right things and protected his image, he’d ultimately earn a level of generational wealth that could provide nothing but the best for his children and grandchildren.
I repeat, the kid had it made.
Until, of course, we found out that Aaron Hernandez, unlike most of his contemporaries in the NFL, was not merely a football player masquerading as a thug. He was, rather, a thug masquerading as a football player.
Today, as I watched his blank facial expression when the jury in a courtroom in Fall River, Massachusetts delivered his guilty verdict on a first-degree murder charge in the deadly shooting of a young man by the name of Odin Lloyd, when Hernandez mouthed to his fiancée and mother to “Be strong. Be strong,” I did not feel any sense of sorrow for what he lost, what he threw away, what he so callously discarded.
What I did feel was sadness for Odin Lloyd, his family and the other victims of Hernandez and his psychopathic behavior.
Whatever convoluted reason that Hernandez’s angel dust-ravaged mind concocted to convince him that Lloyd deserved to die will probably never be known. Some say that Lloyd, shot six times in the late-night hours of June 17th, 2013 in an industrial park in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, may have had knowledge about the deadly 2012 shooting outside of a Boston nightclub that claimed the lives of Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixiera Furtado, a shooting that prosecutors allege Hernandez to also be responsible for.
People want to talk about the sudden, unexpected and accidental death of Hernandez’s father in 2006 as the beginning of his troubles, or his mother’s arrest on bookmaking charges, or the physical abuse that his mom suffered at the hands of her coke-dealing boyfriend and second husband, or the thugs and gang members (Hernandez is reported to be a member of the Bloods) he gravitated to in high school, his social immaturity or the fact that he was assaulting people in Gainesville, Florida from the moment he arrived at college, and how the school looked past and covered up his drinking and drug use as reasons to explain his murderous rage.
There was an incident in Gainesville in 2009, when, despite winning a National Championship and being named an All-American and the John Mackey Award winner as the country’s best tight end, he was purportedly involved in a shooting outside of a bar after a teammate had his gold chain stolen. Despite being called as a witness and invoking his right to counsel when questioned, Hernandez was never charged in the case, which remains open. He wasn’t even named in the police report and walked away unscathed.
Some will say it is incidents like that, in which he walked away unsoiled from an attempted murder, that convinced him that he could get away with anything.
But I could give a rat’s ass about why he became the monster and blood-thirsty killer that he eventually did. The fact is that the world is a better place now that he will rot in jail for the rest of his life. The sadness should not be reserved for the chances, money and fame that he squandered, but rather for the victims.
His victims include much more than the people that he murdered. They include siblings, cousins, mothers, fathers, friends, including his own family, who are left to make sense of the senseless.
Aaron Hernandez was not simply a pot-smoking, hard-drinking knucklehead who we watched, booed or cheered for on Sundays. He was, and is, a homicidal maniac.
He won’t be catching any more breaks and running to daylight any time soon, unless it’s in the yard of the MCI-Cedar Junction prison facility in Walpole, Massachusetts, where he’s scheduled to serve out his life term.
In an ironic twist of fate, Cedar Junction is less than two miles from Gillette Stadium, where Aaron Hernandez once had the brightest of futures, and heard the loudest of applause.
It’s only fitting that in the shadows of his greatest victories, he gets to ponder, for the rest of his life, the reasons behind his monumental downfall.
My grandmother always told me to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. At some point, Aaron Hernandez glorified, and wanted, the thug life.
And that is exactly what he got, and fully deserved: the real Thug Life, with no chance of parole.
Couldn’t have happened to a better guy.