By Mark Paulette
To quote Bill Belichick, the “tragic” story of Aaron Hernandez began long before the public was made aware. From criminal activity as a teenager on the streets of Connecticut, to his rise to NFL stardom and ultimate demise, a one word question can be asked throughout Hernandez’s path to darkness – why?
When the New England Patriots selected young Hernandez out of the University of Florida with the 113th pick in the 2010 draft, the organization knew they were receiving a talent valued at far greater than the mid-fourth round pick to which he fell. An accumulation of assault charges, including an alleged incident at a night club which led to the victim losing an eye, as well as self-proclaimed substance abuse issues clouded the tight end’s stock and left NFL teams weary to make him one of their own. Yet despite the concerns, the Patriots seized a chance to steal top-level skill and brought in the baggage-ridden 20-year-old, and dividends were immediately paid to the organization which outweighed risk with reward.
By the age of 22, Hernandez was producing at a Pro Bowl level, catching 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games during the 2011 season. He was even featured at running back, averaging 11.5 yards per carry through his first two years in the league.
The potential was limitless for this young player. Hernandez possessed the speed of a wide-out, the agility of a half-back and the brute strength of a traditional tight end, redefining the role of a hybrid offensive weapon.
In August of 2012, Hernandez signed a 5-year extension worth nearly $40-million-dollars, including a $12.5-million-dollar signing bonus and just under $16-million in guaranteed money. The deal was the second-largest extension in NFL history at the tight end position and an unprecedented move by the Patriots’ organization. A group with the well-earned reputation of slashing costs rather than going out of their way to reward a player, especially one of Hernandez’s youthful standing in the league.
The new #81 was looked to as a young leader in the team’s locker room and appeared to be growing off the field as well. Hernandez received his major deal shortly after becoming a father to daughter, Avielle, and emotionally expressed after the signing that he was “set for life, a good life.”
Yet, at that off-season’s combine, Hernandez expressed concerns to Belichick of his own safety, and while the matter was not great enough to trade the blossoming star, it should have raised flags about the business he was conducting away from One Patriot Place.
10 months later, the body of personal friend and semi-pro linebacker, Odin Lloyd, was found not far from Hernandez’s North Attleboro home in a gravel pit with multiple gunshot wounds. In an expeditious series of events, Hernandez was taken into custody for the murder, released by the Patriots within hours of his arrest, and set on a highly publicized legal path which culminated with his apparent suicide yesterday at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass.
So, we are left to ask why.
Why did Hernandez throw away limitless potential for a criminal life he couldn’t escape? Why did the Patriots overlook several incidents involving the disturbed star? And now, why did Hernandez take his own life?
There was no suicide note left, and as delicately as one can put this, if there was ever a time to live for Hernandez, it was now. He was just acquitted of the 2012 double-murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, the believed motive behind Lloyd’s slaying, who knew of Hernandez’s murderous past. His defense team believed they had a chance in overturning, or at least re-trying, the life sentence without the possibility of parole, which Hernandez was serving after being found guilty of Lloyd’s killing. Hernandez was often seen joking with his lawyers and smiling at jurors.
I’m not attempting to paint the picture of a man who was jolly in spirits and deserving of public sympathy. Rather, I’m simply backing up the facts stated by the correctional officers of Souza-Baranowski, who said Hernandez was not on suicide watch, nor did he display suspicious behavior.
The story of Aaron Hernandez is a tragedy. The family members of those who perished at his hands deserve justice. Let me be perfectly clear, the carnage wrecked in his wake and the unknown tally of those effected by this malicious monster is unjustifiable and Hernandez passes undeserving of public sympathy. He chose this path and did not stray from it, making unthinkable decisions along the way. Yet, per the Massachusetts laws currently in place, Hernandez gained innocence in death, as the law states one is innocent until exhausting all forms of appeals.
So, perhaps therein lies an answer as to why Hernandez chose his first bright moments in four years to take his life. As it stands, his surviving family stands to benefit financially from his passing, as civil cases can no longer be tried against the deceased as a convicted murderer. Hernandez’s former agent, in conjunction with his defense staff, have already claimed they will launch a formal investigation into the 27-year-old’s death, claiming there’s no way he could have taken his own life and that foul play must be involved. The official report from the facility did state it was the first time they had seen such method used in a suicide attempt, leading to conspiracy theories surrounding his death.
But as was the case with much of the rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez, in his wake, we are simply left wondering why?
Mark Paulette is the senior producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.