When Aaron Hernandez’s lifeless body was found last Wednesday morning in his Massachusetts jail cell, it closed the book as an unhappy and unsatisfied conclusion on a 27 year story. In less than five years, Hernandez went from one of the NFL’s rising superstars, with more potential than money in his contract, to convicted murderer and social media punchline. Now he lies as another example of wasted potential with the eternal question that now resides over his name of “what if?”
The New England Patriots have turned themselves into a dynasty with Aaron Hernandez type players: college players who fall in the NFL Draft because of injury, off the field issues or poor college to pro level projections. The most famous example of course being selecting Tom Brady in the sixth round of the draft. Hernandez fell into that second category, with sources from the Boston Globe saying he admitted to marijuana use and failing multiple drug test. It’s funny because the day before, the Pats selected another tight end in Rob Gronkowski, who fell in the draft because of injury considerations. Now we have to tight ends with questionable league projections that caused their draft stock to fall, and they immediately make an impact in this league and on their team.
In his first two years with New England, Hernandez saw the Pats go 14-2 in his rookie season, and helped net his quarterback his second MVP award, and then catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl the next year. He was awarded in the lead up to his third season with a new, five year contract that included signing bonus of 12.5 million, the largest for a tight end in history. Though his third (and what would be final season) was hampered by an ankle injury and Gronkowski really separated himself as the Batman in their duo, fans looked at an injury free Hernandez in 2013 would equal Gronkowski in productivity.
And that’s it. From June 18, 2013, when the body of Odin Lloyd was found, to today as you are reading this, Aaron Hernandez went from no limitations in where he can take his life and his family’s life, to dead. Early on, there were comparison to Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who’s Baltimore Ravens teammate defeated Aaron Hernandez in his final game. Early in his career, Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction in a double homicide investigation. Hell, there’s been comparisons to the big one, OJ Simpson and his double murder trial in the 1990s.
But this story is so empty and lacks a cheerful or informative resolution. Lewis was able to learn from his mistakes, get people around him that wouldn’t put him in that nightclub, and become a face of the league even years after his retirement. From the OJ trial, we saw what the country was becoming racially and used that trial to remind us how far we have to go for black and white Americans. It wasn’t just the OJ trial. It was the Rodney King trial sequel and the LAPD trial and the District Attorney trial. All these documentaries and miniseries on the “Trial of the Century” spends as much time focusing on Los Angeles in the 1980s and early ‘90s as it does with Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown’s murder.
In this case today, there’s nothing. No chance for Aaron to reinvent himself. There’s nothing the country can learn about itself. The media and public is looking for a story behind the his suicide, from his acquittal of another murder less than a week before his suicide leading to the Patriots potential having to pay out his contract to his family. Rumors have circulated of his sexuality, or even going as sinister to say that he was murdered and that there is a cover up from prison officials and inmates.
All rumors with very little to no evidence to the facts. Aaron Hernandez at the age of 27, hung himself in his jail cell and was pronounced dead on April 19, 2017. What we have is Lawrence Phillips of a new generation. Phillips, like Hernandez, was a troubled and talented football player whose demons eventually ended his career prematurely, got him locked up in jail and hung himself. And as investigations and conspiracy theories continue, and Aaron’s former team wins championships without him, we can only ask “what if,” because Aaron is no longer here to provide us an answer to the more important question that had the ability to grant cloture to this story. Why?