One of the most bizarre stories in the sports world over the last three years took a final downward turn this week when Aaron Hernandez, former Patriots tight end, was found dead in his prison cell of apparent suicide. Even though his family is requesting a full investigation into his death and they are unwilling to rule it a suicide at this time, the evidence will likely prove that Hernandez took his own life while serving his life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd.
Before Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder in 2013 after his sister’s fiancé was found dead within a mile of his house, I remember him as somebody I was glad played in the NFL. He was a Latino football player, something that isn’t exactly in abundance in today’s NFL. I remember thinking he would be a good role model for young Latinos who chose to focus on football instead of other sports, but boy was I wrong. The reality was that he wasn’t a good man, let alone a decent role model. No matter his fame and fortune, he couldn’t get himself to be an upstanding human being, and that’s just too bad.
Hernandez had just been acquitted in another murder case late last week, though he was found guilty of unlawful gun possession which carries with it up to five years in a state prison. With the acquittal, though, the timing of his suicide seems very odd. He had just learned that there was a chance he’d be a free man again someday, even if that chance was fairly slim. Why barricade his door and hang himself now? It’s impossible to put yourself in his shoes, but we are all left with the question of why.
Why did Hernandez throw away a career in the NFL? Why was achieving his childhood dream not enough for him? Why did he wait until now to commit suicide? Why was playing in the NFL on a 40 million dollar contract not enough?
Hernandez formed an imposing tight end duo with current Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski provided the big plays while Hernandez was often left open underneath. Together they were two fast, physical, new age tight ends that seemed destined to make life easier on quarterback Tom Brady for the remainder of his career. Both were signed to lucrative contracts, but only one panned out and turned into the star the Patriots envisioned. Gronkowski is still a force in today’s NFL, a star beyond compare at his position. Would Hernandez have taken some of the shine off of Gronkowski’s star, or would he have enhanced it?
The sad truth is that we will never know the answers to these questions. We lost somebody who had the potential to be a leader in the Latino community, but was instead an embarrassment. Maybe he only killed Lloyd, or maybe there’s a handful of other crimes that he successfully covered up. Anyone who has ever been close with somebody who committed suicide knows there are infinitely more questions than answers.
I just have one: why?