Aaron Hernandez was a budding NFL superstar. He was fresh off a lucrative contract extension when, in an event all Patriots fans who were old enough remember to this day, he was led out of his house with his hands under his shirt and cuffed behind his back for the murder of Odin Lloyd. The stardom of Hernandez came crashing down after more evidence was unearthed and eventually the disgraced Patriot hung himself on April 19, 2017 at the age of 27, marking the end of a short, tumultuous life. The documentary miniseries released by Netflix grapples with the unknown reasons for Hernandez’s misdeeds and takes us into the life of a convicted murderer who once seemed to have it all. After his death, his brain was donated to research for the purpose of uncovering the mystery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease which has been brought to light in recent years. The disease is mostly common in football, but also extends to hockey, soccer, and even baseball as well. The questions of CTE began with the death of former Steelers linebacker Mike Lambert and reached a national level with the suicide of former star linebacker Junior Seau in 2012. It expanded to hockey when Bob Probert, a former enforcer for the Chicago Blackhawks, also donated his brain following his premature death at 47. An event that really shocked the baseball community was the suicide of former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ryan Freel, who was also posthumously revealed to have CTE. However, CTE, while usually leading to behavioral shifts and depression, does not often tie into murderous behavior, especially in the case of Hernandez.
Hernandez, while playing football at a high level, was also reportedly dealing with intense personal issues. He lost his father unexpectedly at 16, which some interviewees say lead to his path down the “dark side”, for lack of a better term. After his father’s death, his structured life began to decay. His mother, who was culpable in the early stages of Hernandez’s emotional issues, began dating the husband of his cousin and confidant, Tanya Singleton. It was there that Hernandez began affiliating himself with unsavory characters. His spiral led him away from his commitment to the University of Connecticut, finding a place at the University of Florida, a college and (especially) coach (Urban Meyer) known for its shady and illicit recruits and players. Hernandez found himself in a place without guidance, alone 1000 miles away. There, he began participating in more illegal activity, and it is rumored that he shot up a car during his time in Gainesville, but the case is still unsolved. This start of criminal activity at Florida no doubt led to his future unlawful behavior.
This intense personal trauma extends far past his father’s untimely demise. Hernandez was also battling sexual questioning. He had been experiencing consensual and nonconsensual sexual encounters with men from the time he was very young. His brother, DJ, alleges that Aaron was molested by their babysitter. Former Patriots offensive tackle and gay man Ryan O’Callaghan talked in the documentary about having a “beard” which is essentially a closeted person’s cover. The sports world, at that point in time, and perhaps even to date, is very homophobic, and only one openly gay player (Michael Sam) has been drafted into the NFL, and he never played a regular season snap. There has only been one other openly gay player in the four other major sports (Jason Collins), and even he came out late in his basketball career. This homophobia is boosted by stereotypical views of masculinity with regard to athletes. Hernandez likely had serious trouble grappling with that while constantly under public scrutiny as a member of the most renowned organization of the 21st century.
None of these are valid excuses for committing such heinous acts. However, when taking all of the emotional stress of attempting to hide so many different things about your personal life from the public eye, in addition to the beating the brain sustains on a weekly, perhaps even daily basis by playing football for years, it is unfortunately clear to see the impact it had on Aaron Hernandez’s brain, and the documentary does such a great job of taking us inside the life of a fallen superstar through interviews, excerpts from trials and phone conversations between him and his closest friends and family, all of which paint Hernandez in a more broadening light. The world may not ever know what led to his rampage that ended up taking the life of at least one person and threatening perhaps many more, but it can be sure that there were many reasons which ultimately made Aaron Hernandez the vile person he was.
The documentary was released on Netflix on January 15th, 2020. The link to watch it is: https://www.netflix.com/title/81062828?s=i&trkid=13747225&t=amsg
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