Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell in the early morning hours of April 19. The ex-New England Patriot tight end, who had been convicted of one murder charge and acquitted of two others, reportedly committed suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet. His family and friends are left wondering what happened, especially because he didn’t leave a note and hadn’t showcased any signs of suicidal thoughts.
Sports agent Brian Murphy, who had previously represented Aaron Hernandez, stirred the controversy by declaring on Twitter that the football player “would never take his own life.” It remains to be seen if anything comes of this bold allegation. In the meantime, Aaron Hernandez will serve as yet another cautionary tale from the dark side of sports.
Fallen Heroes: When Sports Stars Become Infamous
The world of sports is no stranger to criminal activity, suicides, and bad press. Long before there was the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, the world was shocked when O.J. Simpson was arrested. The subsequent trial became a notable part of legal history, and people still debate over whether or not Simpson is a killer. Of course, that’s understandable when someone who was accused of murder ends up releasing a book titled, “O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.”
Former Panthers star Rae Carruth didn’t pull the trigger during the shooting that claimed the life of his wife, but he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. In layman’s terms, this means he was involved in the planning stages of the shooting. Even more disturbing is the fact that his wife was pregnant at the time. Fortunately, the baby survived, although he grew up with his dad behind bars and a deceased mother.
According to the New York Times, another NFL star, Darren Sharper, had a long history of sexually abusing women before the law caught up with him. More than a dozen women joined the legal case against Sharper. He was eventually convicted on two counts of raping and drugging women, which was enough to earn him 20 years behind bars.
Suicide, Sports, and Aaron Hernandez
Aaron Hernandez committing suicide is shocking, but it’s far from an isolated incident. There are dozens of sports stars who are known to have taken their own lives. Numerous reasons have been given to explain these deaths, ranging from depression to legal troubles. Sadly, Aaron Hernandez didn’t leave a note behind, so his family may never learn what drove him to such desperate actions.
In 2012, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend before committing suicide. Again, family and friends were left wondering what happened. Tragically, the couple left behind a three-month-old baby.
Ray Easterling is yet another former NFL star who ended his own life. This particular case was especially troubling because it was discovered that Easterling had suffered a brain injury. The culprit? Multiple blows to the head while playing football.
Did Aaron Hernandez Kill Himself because of Multiple Concussions?
After Easterling’s death, there was a lot of focus placed on the link between concussions and suicidal thoughts. Studies have also indicated that individuals who have had at least one concussion are three times more likely to kill themselves, reports the Washington Post.
Aaron Hernandez was one of many football players to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can develop after sustaining at least one serious head injury. In other words, playing football left him more susceptible to suicidal thoughts.
Another important piece of the CTE puzzle that NFL officials may eventually need to answer for is the increased aggression that goes with it. Impulsive behavior, emotional instability, and erratic behavior are also common side effects of CTE. A vital fact to consider is that Aaron Hernandez and many of the other fallen sports heroes throughout NFL history have sustained severe blows to the head.
Instead of asking why Aaron Hernandez took his own life, perhaps we should be inquiring about what the NFL is going to do to help prevent future tragedies.
[Featured Image by Stephan Savoia/AP Images]