A former acquaintance asked me to write about him three years ago – I declined. There was no evidence whatsoever at the time that he was gay. I heard the rumors, but outing anyone regardless of proof was then, and still is – unacceptable! There was, however, something that vexed me about his story. The signs of a troubled soul were laid out before many of us like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. Long before the documentaries, conviction, and ultimately his death by suicide at a correctional facility in Massachusetts, I was haunted by the turbulent life and death of Aaron Hernandez.
The once-promising NFL superstar with the world at his feet was an enigma since the day he was drafted in 2010. Plagued with troubles with the law, and an inexplicable desire to be about that street life, he would eventually begin to unravel dropping not so subtle clues of impending doom.
I now see Aaron through a different lens, one not blurred by celebrity and blind worship of America’s most popular and violent pastimes, football.
I’m sure at this point anyone reading this and followed his story, is in complete Aaron Hernandez overload but let’s do a quick recap, shall we? In 2015, Aaron was convicted, and sentenced to a lifetime in prison, for the cowardly act of killing his friend, Odin Lloyd. So much speculation has run amuck as to why but there are elements of this tragedy for which we may never truly know the reason.
Aaron Hernandez is a murderer! It’s what most of the world believes based on what we now know about that fateful night when Odin, sent a cryptic text message to his sister dropping hints about whom he was leaving with in the middle of the night. He could not predict what was to come, but his final words to her would eventually become damning evidence against the tight end for the New England Patriots.
A lot has happened in my life since the unimaginable events seven years ago. I am now the uncle of a murdered nephew and having sat through a two-week murder trial, I know all too well about how people who commit despicable acts can be made to look like actual victims. I now see Aaron through a different lens, one not blurred by celebrity and blind worship of America’s most popular and violent pastimes – football. There is still, however, a part of me that wonders how we, and Aaron all got here.
“I was definitely shook.”
I appreciate Rob Gronkowski looking back on Aaron Hernandez. Can’t be easy. #10Questions
— Kyle Brandt (@KyleBrandt) March 18, 2021
As the eyes of most football fans were glued to all of the documentaries and specials, I was perplexed by how someone so young, who appeared to have it all, would throw it all away for some thug life he appeared to be enamored with. Before the revealing interviews from attorneys, former girlfriends, and close acquaintances regarding Aaron’s alleged sexuality, I had persistent thoughts wanting to know why Aaron chose to end, or drastically alter the lives of people he claimed to love. A reason that would warrant the illogical decision to commit murder. A secret maybe, one that he would be compelled to protect by any means necessary.
I still want to root for Aaron, the scared child whose roots were soaked in turmoil. I felt the burden of a teenager obligating himself to strangers who benefited financially from his undeniable talent. I empathized with a young man who felt he could not authentically be himself and longed to be free. Maybe I have a soft spot for brown boys who love other boys, who grow into men who love other men. A plight for which society often demonizes, leaving so many to feel invisible and unwanted. My soul, much like Aaron’s, sobbed heavily for acceptance in a culture of manufactured, toxic masculinity. Yet with all of my compassion, this is one brother in the struggle, I could not bring myself to champion.
Men of a particular persuasion (as a family friend once described the same-gender-loving), experience a lot of eyebrow-raising, add a hint of melanin and it’s a furrowed cap on a scowl of cultural disappointment. The challenge for many of us, however, does not offer a pass on the consequences of bad decisions which result in the loss of life. The fear of being ostracized due to a tightly held secret is not a get-out-of-jail card. A controversial medical condition as the result of playing a combative sport doesn’t warrant compassion when the risks of playing in the NFL are well known.
What is chilling about Aaron’s journey, is that there are so many questions that will never be answered. Aaron was the handsome jock whose talent spun a web of gold that for many years, provided a foundation of protection. A tightly woven pattern that allowed the world to see and believe what we wanted. Even with all of the NFL grooming and ride-or-die support from his fiancée and family members, Aaron could not harness his fame and notoriety to get a grip on the internal struggles he kept to himself.
Whether Aaron was gay or not is irrelevant. I’m more interested in the human element of his story. What could have been done to prevent him from spiraling into the abyss of no return? What memorable family moments could have been created had Odin never stepped foot in that car or if Aaron made better decisions? Aaron controlled the only thing he could, football. To all of us still left with the desire to know more, the lack of control over any additional details is another element of this bizarre mystery. It’s the football fans like myself who are left wondering if Aaron himself was intentional about his legacy being an apparition, focusing solely on the glory on the field and leaving the presence of his tormented personal life felt by a select few, yet never fully seen.