The bustling world of sports was shocked upon hearing the news that Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end star, had committed suicide from his jail cell in Lancaster, Massachusetts on April 19. Hernandez, who faced an abrupt fall from grace in a heavily broadcast murder trial, was serving a life sentence without opportunity for parole, in accordance to the murder of his friend Odin Lloyd. Moreover, just five days earlier, Hernandez had been acquitted on charges stemming from a separate double-murder in which he was a prime suspect. The fallen star left three notes in his cell in addition to an open Bible to grace his exit. In the wake of these events, many have dug into Hernandez’s life and upbringing to try to make sense of the latest turn in an already 1twisted saga.
After his father’s untimely death when he was just 16-years-old, Hernandez’s mother noticed a serious change in her son. The future NFL tight end began rebelling against authority, picking frivolous fights and hanging around a rough crowd. During his freshman year of college, Hernandez refused to pay his restaurant bill and subsequently ruptured the eardrum of an employee who tried to escort him out. A few months later, he was a suspect in a double-shooting incident. Though many could see the danger in Hernandez’ changed behavior, few would have suspected that it would eventually become lethal.
Still, as Hernandez’s off-the-field problems began to pile up, so did his on-the-field production. Shattering nearly every receiving record in Connecticut state history while in high school, Hernandez emerged as the top tight end recruit in the nation upon graduation. He eventually decided on the University of Florida, where he proceeded to take the Southeastern Conference by storm. Acclaim, awards and championships greeted Hernandez at every turn, yet his draft stock continued to fall after he declared for the NFL following his junior year. Drug problems and a mounting concern for his questionable behavior caused teams to take Hernandez off their draft board early, despite being one of the best talents coming out of college.
Eventually, the Patriots took a chance with the talented but troubled tight end, selecting him in the fourth round. From there, the rookie excelled under a great head coach and a Hall of Fame quarterback playing for one of football’s longstanding dynasties.
Even that was not enough to keep Hernandez from trouble. In the summer of 2013, less than a year after inking one of the largest contract extensions for a tight end in league history, the brother of Hernandez’ fiancee was found dead in an industrial park. Hernandez was the lead suspect.
The court case that followed was as long as it was disturbing. Throughout the bulk of it, Hernandez seemed passive and relaxed. He smiled often and even laughed on occasion. Even after finding out that he would spend the rest of his life behind bars, in a prison less than two miles away from the NFL stadium he once dominated, Hernandez’ stoic demeanor never faltered. The courtroom accounts depicted a man who felt sorry for no one, including himself.
Yet the trial that took place two years later told a different story. Hernandez took the stand once again to defend against accusations of two other murders, this time weeping upon hearing the jury admit his innocence.
However, the shallowness of the apparent victory was evident to all seeing as Hernandez would still spend the rest of his life in prison for Lloyd’s murder. To no one was this clearer than to Hernandez himself, who hanged himself inside his cell five days later. Written on his forehead was “John 3:16,” the same Bible verse quarterback Tim Tebow wrote on his face during their national championship game just a few years earlier.
Hernandez’s family announced that they would be donating his brain for medical research. For years, scientists have been shedding light on the effects of traumatic head injuries regularly sustained by football players and drawing connections between adverse events later on in the player’s life—most commonly drug abuse and domestic violence. The results of this specific study are sure to be heavily referenced and scrutinized once made public.
Hernandez’s death is as divisive as it is tragic. He killed himself and left behind a grieving fiancee and a 4-year-old daughter, but also sat trial for three separate murders, including that of his own daughter’s uncle. An extremely talented man was given countless opportunities over the years to change his life for the better. Despite being surrounded by fame, fortune and success, he chose a life astray.
It is not easy for one to classify their emotions throughout the Hernandez saga. The only certainty is that his life ended the way he lived it: harshly. While some are quick to mourn the former NFL star’s suicide, others are not as sympathetic. Reporters and analysts are desperately trying to come up with reasons why such a successful athlete could be driven to take lives, including his own. Still, by studying the journey that brought Hernandez to hang himself in his prison cell, the country hopes it can at least try to understand the tragic life and death of one of the most enigmatic stars to play.