I still remember standing in my room watching SportsCenter when the news broke that summer. They had cameras everywhere outside of Hernandez’s house, in a neighborhood that looked just like the ones I grew up around in Norton, MA. North Attleboro and Norton are about 15 miles apart, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid, so this whole thing quite literally hit home for me. Eventually, they led him out of his house in cuffs and my first thought is “Nah, he didn’t do nothin’…did he”? After all, this was the guy we just gave a $40 million dollar contract to last summer. There was no way we would give somebody that much money that could possibly be tied to murder.
I don’t think people outside of New England realize how much Patriots fans loved Aaron Hernandez. He was a local kid who played his high school ball with his older brother DJ in Bristol, CT. He slipped in the draft because of highly publicized off the field issues, but was otherwise a first round talent. They love seeing Belichick take gambles on players and seeing them pay off. During his rookie season, he was the youngest player in the league at 20 years old and excelled in a Brady-led offense that typically overwhelms rookies. In an organization generally viewed as conservative, he stood out as the only player fully tatted and his end zone celebrations brought an infectious energy to the offense. Him and Gronk were unstoppable by their third season together.
I’ve seen a million interviews of Aaron Hernandez during his time with the Patriots, including the one right after he signed his extension with his infamous proclamation of being “changed by the Patriot-Way”. And I’ve gotta say I’ve never seen anyone conceal being a murderer better in my life. The only other person I can think of is OJ, and Hernandez is a way better liar than OJ ever was. I just couldn’t fathom thinking about the same dude I was watching catch touchdown passes from Tom Brady on Sundays could be someone to commit murder. Everybody on the team and in the organization loved 81.
But the sad truth about this this whole tragedy is that Hernandez was living a double life for years. He grew up in an affluent neighborhood and wanted to prove that he was about that life to anyone who questioned it. And as more details are released, it seems as though his sexual orientation might have also motivated him to prove his toughness to everyone as well. Winning the genetic lottery and catching touchdown passes in the Super Bowl wasn’t enough for Hernandez, he proactively sought out that lifestyle. The same hometown friends he tried to escape by attending the University of Florida were close by again in New England, and that draft choice alone might have altered his entire life.
The public is just left wondering ‘why’ about a lot of things, but I think the most curious is why now? He had already been in prison since 2013 at that point, and based on all the reports he had actually adjusted quite seamlessly in there. Jose Baez, most famous previously for winning the Casey Anthony trial, just won him an acquittal in a double murder trial in Boston from 2012. That win would have also helped him in his appeal for his current life sentence, because the motive for that murder was based under the assumption that he DID commit those two murders. So after Baez said he felt there was a chance he could get Hernandez out of jail, things had never looked better for him. Why, after all this time, would you choose now to take your own life when things were finally starting to look up?
In reality, I think Hernandez knew he was never going to see the light of day again. After his not guilty verdict was read, he was going right back to where he was the previous day. Was there a slim chance for him to win that appeal? Sure, but he knew he committed that murder, just like he knew he committed that double homicide he was just found not guilty of too. That, coupled with the fact that his Patriots money was running low, was just too much for Hernandez to handle the rest of his life. And a life that once seemed to be headed for Canton ended in a Massachusetts jail cell in the middle of the night.
We’ve won two Super Bowls since the Hernandez days, and Pats fans have moved on from a football standpoint from that situation. We used to think about the “what-ifs” of having such a transcendent talent next to Gronk, but until his recent acquittal I hadn’t even thought 81 in years. But there’s no doubt that from beginning to end, this entire story is just remarkably sad for all parties involved. It’s going to make a great 30 for 30 one day though, and I’m all in favor of Ezra Edelman handling this one as well.