The Fall of an NFL Star and Rise of a Killer: The Aaron Hernandez Story
Tight end for the NFL, Aaron Hernandez had an illustrious but fleeting career with the New England Patriots, having played only three seasons with the renowned team. During his NFL career, he managed to earn 175 receptions and 18 touchdowns. He even made one notable appearance at Super Bowl XLVI. But all of it was for naught, as his career would be overshadowed by controversy and MURDER.
Aaron Hernadez had everything going for him, but he struggled with a life of trauma as he couldn’t seem to help himself with numerous run-ins with the law. His aggressions on the field bled into his personal life, as he would become violent at even the most minor offenses.
From bar fights to double homicide, Aaron Hernandez quickly became one of the most notorious NFL stars of all time, which made for exciting press but a damaged reputation that ended his career. His story is told in the Netflix documentary Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, which gives some serious insight into his headspace.
This NFL star may not have had a long career, but he’s certainly one of the most interesting. And with that said, let’s take a look at Aaron Hernandez and his journey from NFL star to convicted killer…
Birth of a Tight End
Born in Bristol, Connecticut, Aaron Hernandez was born to a Puerto Rican father and an Italian mother in 1989. His parents had a rocky relationship that ultimately led to their divorce in 1991.
However, they remarried in 1996. But that didn’t bring them any closer. Surrounded by constant arguing, as well as criminal activity, Hernandez would have a life of anything but stability – starting at an early age.
Hernandez was also subjected to much abuse while living under his father’s roof. Pushing Aaron, and his older brother, to excel, he punished them for every unsatisfactory behavior – and their mother too.
Occasionally beatings would come for no reason all, although alcohol is said to have been involved. Aaron and his brother lived in confusion headspace of constant fear and reverence for their abusive father. Sometimes Hernandez would show up to school with bruises.
In addition to academic success, Hernandez’s father, Dennis, was obsessed with turning his sons into athletes. He wanted them to be the best in every way.
So, much so that he always believed his children were never good enough, or rather never trying hard enough. And on top of punching his own child in the eye, he also assaulted the head coach over a dispute about his coaching methods.
In addition to the child abuse at the hands of his father, Aaron Hernandez was also a victim of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a teenage boy.
He is said to have been just six years old at the time, and it wasn’t just a single incident. The abuse would continue for several years.
In addition to the abuse received at the hands of his own father, the effects of the sexual abuse would have a profound effect on Hernandez and his psyche.
According to defense lawyer George Leontire, [Hernandez] had a belief that his abuse as a child impacted his sexuality; that was one of the things that he held onto as to why he, in his mind, has this ‘aberrant' behavior."
The Death of the Father
Hernadez was just 16 years old when his father died due to complications of a hernia surgery back in 2006. The father, who was sometimes referred to by Hernandez as the King, was a figure he respected immensely, and when his father died, he was devastated.
Around this time, Hernandez was also dealing with his first concussion, having been tackled so roughly that he could not even get up for a while after. Little did he know this would have long-lasting brain damage.
Some say, Hernandez never got over his father’s death. In his grief, he turned to teenage rebellion, acting out in the face of authority and estranging himself from his own mother.
Despite everything that his father put him through, Hernandez had much difficulty coping with the loss of his authority figure, even if he wasn’t the most loving father a boy could have.
After the death of his father, Hernandez moved in with his cousin Tanya Singleton, whose husband Hernandez came to learn was having an affair with his mother.
Singleton eventually divorced from her husband as he moved in with Hernandez’s mom. The affair made Hernandez angrier and so he would spend most of his time living with his cousin.
A Neglectful Mother
More focused on her affair, Hernandez’s mother failed to give her son the proper attention and treatment that her son needed, having failed to obtain his ADHD medication, which ultimately caused him to struggle in school.
In a jailhouse phone call to his mother, he told her, “There's so many things I would love to talk to you [about], so you can know me as a person. But I never could tell you. And you're gonna die without even knowing your son.”
Turning to Crime
Although his cousin provided him with a more positive environment, the absence of authority figures made him go down a darker path.
While living with his cousin, Hernandez became involved in criminal activity. He also got tattoos and was free to do pretty much whatever he wanted to.
In April 2007, Hernandez took part in a bar fight in Gainesville. Just 17 years old at the time, he had consumed two alcoholic beverages and refused to pay the bill. He was then escorted out.
As the manager walked away, Hernandez hit him on the side of the head, rupturing his eardrum. The police were called, but charges would be dropped as the incident was allegedly settled out of court.
Later that year, in September 2007, Hernandez was believed to have taken part in a shooting, firing at Randall Carson, Justin Glass, and Corey Smith. Smith was shot in the back of the head, and Glass was shot in the arm, but they both survived.
Initially, Carson identified Hernandez as the shooter since the two had a verbal argument earlier that night, but he later rescinded that statement not long after Detective Tom Mullins concluded that Hernandez could not have been the shooter.
High School Football
Aaron Hernandez attended Bristol Central High School, where in addition to track and basketball, he started playing for the school’s football team, the Bristol Rams.
Starting as a wide receiver, he would become the team’s tight end and defensive end. And it wouldn’t be long before he started making a big name for himself.
While playing high school football, Hernandez had 1,807 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns, which was a state record. On top of that, he had 31 career touchdowns, tying the current record.
In his senior year, Hernandez became Connecticut's Gatorade Football Player of the Year and a US Army All-American.
Hernandez was undoubtedly one of the most popular kids in school and had all the baggage that comes with that, including excessive partying.
His social life comprised of excessive drinking, and lots of marijuana smoking too – before school and after. But none of it seemed to slow him down when it came to football.
He began dating his high school sweetheart Shayanna Jenkins, whom he had known since elementary school. And she would eventually become his fiancée.
She was a woman he would describe as his “soulmate” and she was also the mother of his child. But, like the relationships his parents had, it was not simple.
High School Affair
During his junior year, Aaron Hernandez was involved in a relationship with his team’s quarterback, and the two carried on a relationship during a time that nobody knew about.
Fearing that their parents would disown them, the two never revealed their relationship to anyone at the time.
Despite his academic struggles in school, colleges wasted no time trying to snatch up Aaron Hernandez for their respective teams.
At first, he was committed to playing for the University of Connecticut, with whom his brother also played for, but he later joined up with the University of Florida.
Playing with the Gators
As a freshman in college, Hernandez played with the Florida Gators, finishing the season with nine receptions and two touchdowns.
And his skills only improved from there. In his junior year, he gained 68 receptions and five touchdowns. For his achievements, he won the John Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end.
Kicked from the Team
Urban Meyer had a huge issue with Hernandez’s marijuana use, which he believed to be excessive. He wanted to remove him earlier, but teammate and friend Tim Tebow appealed the decision.
However, for the following year, Meyer told Hernandez he would not be welcome back for a fourth year. He advised Meyer to get picked up by a professional team in the NFL, and that’s exactly what he did. By the end of his college career, he had scored 111 receptions and 12 touchdowns.
Entering the Draft
Having had subpar grades and a coach that didn’t like him, Hernandez decided to forgo his final year of college and enter the NFL draft.
He attended the NFL Scouting Combine in 2010, but after tearing a back muscle, he wasn’t able to perform many of the physical drills required.
The Second Attempt
On his second attempt at the Florida pro day, he was able to perform all the necessary drills, and he was also able to break some records in the process. His time for the 40-yard dash rivaled many of the NFL tight ends of the time, and if he had been in the actual NFL, he would have ranked fourth.
On top of that, he performed 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, surpassing Dennis Pitta’s record of 27.
Joining with the Patriots
Several teams would pass on Hernandez due to concerns of drug abuse and his strength of character. He received a low “social maturity score,” and because of this, teams such as the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins removed him from their draft boards.
However, the New England Patriots would take a chance on him, selecting Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft, making him the sixth tight end for that year.
Signing the Dotted Line
Hernandez signed a 4-year contract with the Patriots worth $2.37 million, including a $200,000 signing bonus.
Interestingly, the bonus was less than half of what was expected before signing, which was allegedly a precautionary measure. They would make up for it by offering a series of roster and workout bonuses that added up to an additional $700,000.
At the start of the 2010 season, Hernandez was the youngest active player in the NFL and, later, had the distinguishment of being the youngest player since 1960 with more than 100 receiving yards in a single game.
He would finish his rookie season with 45 receptions among 563 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions spread amongst 14 games.
Hernandez continued to have a successful career in his second season but did undergo surgery in his 15th week after injuring his hip.
He set numerous records in 2011. Tied with Rob Gronkowski, they were the first pair of tight ends to catch at least five touchdowns each in consecutive seasons for the same team in NFL history. And on top of that, they performed 169 receptions and 24 touchdowns.
Driving and Driving
In 2011, trouble found Hernandez once again, this time in front of a townhouse he was renting in Plainville, Massachusetts. Upon driving Hernandez home drunk from a bar, his old high school friend was pulled over by police.
They had allegedly been weaving in and out of lanes and were driving 120 mph. Still, nonetheless, the driver was not arrested since the Massachusetts State Trooper recognized Hernandez in the passenger seat. A similar incident would occur in January 2013, but his fame would not get his friend off the hook this time.
The Super Bowl
In February 2012, Hernandez played in his first and only Super Bowl - Super Bowl XLVI. Playing against the New York Giants, the Patriots had lost 21-17.
Hernandez made eight passes out of 67 yards and made a 12-yard touchdown reception, which still managed to impress.
In August, the Patriots signed Hernandez to a five-year contract extension worth $39.58 million, which included $15.95 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $12.50 million. And out of that bonus, he donated $50,000 to charity.
During the second week of playing in the 2012 season, Hernandez got sidelined after spraining his ankle. He would miss several weeks but would be back in his element by December, recording eight receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
One Last Game
Hernandez’s last NFL appearance was the 2012 AFC Championship game on January 20, 2013, up against the Baltimore Ravens, performing nine catches for 83 yards and a single touchdown. The Patriots lost.
Having very few friends on the team, Hernandez was an outcast. Despite being one of the hardest-working members of the team, other players did not feel comfortable around him, so ultimately, he was not missed.
Hernandez was back on the police’s radar once again during a double homicide investigation. The incident, which occurred in Boston in July 2012, involved Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado, who were killed in their own vehicle.
Witnesses identified Hernandez’s SUV as pulling next to their car when the shooting occurred, as Hernandez was also present at the club that night. In 2014, he was indicted on murder charges as well as charges of armed assault and attempted murder of the surviving victims.
Having no strong motive to go off of and sloppy evidence from the police, according to Hernandez’s attorney Jose Baez, Hernandez was ultimately acquitted of the murders and most other charges.
He was, however, charged with being in illegal possession of a handgun.
2013 Miami Shooting
In February 2013, Aaron Hernandez and friend Alexander Bradley were visiting a Florida strip club, running a bill up to $10,000, when he suddenly became paranoid they were being followed by plainclothes police officers.
Later that night, the two allegedly had a dispute that led to Bradley getting shot in his right eye. He would not cooperate with the police, however, and instead, Bradley sought damages.
Revisiting the Incident
While Hernandez and Bradley eventually reached a settlement out of court, Hernandez would be indicted for witness intimidation over the incident since Bradley was a witness to the 2012 Boston double homicide.
Had he been convicted, he would have had to serve a maximum of 10 years in prison, but again, Hernandez was acquitted in 2017 for those charges in addition to the double homicide charges.
The Murder of Odin Llyod
Sometime after police reports of Hernandez being drunk and violent, in June 2013, Hernandez was once again under investigation. This time over the murder of a friend, Odin Lloyd, who was found dead with multiple gunshot wounds in the chest and back.
The body was found just a mile from Hernandez’s home. While Hernandez was adamant that he had nothing to do with the shooting, the Patriots cut ties with Hernandez once and for all after he was charged with first-degree murder.
A grand jury indicted Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd, to which he pled not guilty. This time, he would not get off. In April 2015, he was found guilty of first-degree murder.
And with this charge, he was given a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole. In addition to the Patriots cutting all ties with him, so did the University of Florida and his numerous sponsors. The football hero had hit rock bottom.
Hernandez granted power of attorney to his agent and instructed him to provide his fiancée with $3K per month for housing expenses in addition to $500,000 to her and their daughter. He gave $120,000 to a close friend.
In jail, Hernandez seemed strangely content, as if his mind had been finally put at ease, but there were still many occasions when he broke the rules, and to some of it, the police allegedly turned a blind eye. But he was eventually moved to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center – a maximum security prison.
Life in Prison
Life in prison was much harder for Hernandez, usually spending around 20 hours a day in his cell. And in the two years he spent there, he was disciplined numerous times. To many of the prisoners he was a hero, and he even gave them gifts – food, books, television – and to that they were grateful.
But little did they suspect, especially after having just been acquitted for the murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, that he would take his own life.
The Death of Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez was found hanging with bed sheets from his cell window and transported to UMass Memorial Hospital-Leominster. He was pronounced dead at 4:07 am.
The drug K2 had been found in his system, indicating that he had taken it in the past 30 hours of his death. There was no suicide note left, but there was a bible opened to “John 3:16,” which had also been written on his forehead in red ink.
After his death, Aaron Hernandez’s brain was removed for autopsy, and his body was cremated. His ashes were given to his family. His death had been officially ruled a suicide by hanging.
After studying his brain, Boston University diagnosed him with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a pathology caused by repeated head trauma that can lead to aggression, lack of impulse control, paranoia, and emotional volatility.
The CTE that Hernandez was diagnosed with is believed to be the cause of much of his behavior. With a condition caused by an accumulation of head trauma, Hernandez had to have had one of the worst cases in NFL history.
Hernandez’s fiancée attempted to sue the NFL, but it ended up being dismissed. Meanwhile, after his death, lawyers sought to appeal Hernandez’s conviction but with no luck.