The news of Aaron Hernandez’s suicide in prison is shocking, and it is the sad end to a career and a life that held nothing but the promise of success in the future. But how did it come to this? How did a talented, hard working young man with an NFL career on one of the hottest teams in the league end up in prison? What changed his future from a $40 million contract to a future behind bars and ultimately, suicide?
The answer does not lie in just one person or incident. It stems from a lifetime of bad decisions and associations with the wrong people.
Aaron Hernandez was a star football player since he was in high school. He set high school records that still stand today. Hernandez is still number one for the most yards received, 3,677 and is still number four in career receptions, 172.
He was highly sought after by college recruiters and initially chose the Universty of Connecticut, but he eventually played for University of Florida from 2007 to 2009. He left before his senior year to enter the NFL draft. He was only 20 years old when the New England Patriots drafted him.
However, Hernandez had developed a reputation of having possible behavioral problems, and he had tested positive for smoking marijuana several times. He was open in his use of marijuana, but his decisions caused him to be dropped to a fourth-round pick in the draft. Additionally, there were his connections to street gangs and criminals that plagued him. Photographs of Aaron flashing gang signs and wearing red while holding a gun surfaced in the media.
This wasn’t the Hernandez family’s first dealings with the police. His mother, Terry Hernandez, was investigated by the police for being part of an illegal gambling operation. She was not charged, but the incident was embarrassing for the family.
Then, in 2006, Aaron’s father died from complications during hernia surgery. His father, also a local sports hero, was a huge influence on Hernandez’s life, and his death devastated the 16-year-old high school student.
In April 2007, the then 17-year-old Hernandez was kicked out of a Florida restaurant after being accused of consuming alcohol and not paying for the drinks. Tim Tebow, a fellow teammate, tried and failed to de-escalate the situation. Hernandez punched the restaurant manager in the head rupturing his ear drum. The police questioned Hernandez, but charges were never filed.
Again in 2007, the still 17-year-old Hernandez was interviewed by the Gainesville, Florida police department about a shooting that occurred outside of a nightclub. Two males were shot by two assailants, and the shooter was described as a large, muscular Hawaiian, about 240 pounds with lots of tattoos on his arms. Nine days after the shooting the police attempted to speak with Hernandez, but he refused to cooperate with them, invoking his right to counsel. He was never charged with the crime.
In 2013, Hernandez was sued by a friend. Alexander S. Bradley filed a lawsuit against Hernandez. He claimed he and Aaron Hernandez were at a strip club and became involved in an argument. They left together, but the still angry Hernandez pointed a gun at him and fired. Bradley was struck in the face and lost his right eye. The police were called, but Bradley refused to cooperate with them and didn’t name Hernandez as the shooter. However, he filed a civil lawsuit against Hernandez a few months later, naming him as the shooter. Again, Hernandez was never charged because Bradley refused to speak to police investigators.
The final blow to his career was his arrest for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player. Police reports show the two of them became involved in an argument after Lloyd spoke to the wrong people in a nightclub. Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s girlfriend, was found shot about a mile away from Aaron Hernandez’s $1.3 million mansion. When police tracked Lloyd’s movements back to Hernandez’s home, they learned his cell phone and the elaborate video surveillance system for the house had been destroyed.
After being sentenced to life in prison, he was indicted in another double homicide, but he was acquitted on both charges.
Aaron Hernandez’s story evokes a roller coaster of emotions. Nobody gets into the NFL by luck; it is a performance-driven profession, and only hard work and determination will propel athletes into its elite ranks. Aaron Hernandez worked hard to get everything he got, but whatever his inner struggles were, they kept him from keeping it.
[Featured Image by Elise Amendola/AP Images]