Warning: spoiler alerts!
On Saturday night, I watched the much-talked-about Netflix documentary, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. Directed by Geno McDermott, I found this three-part docuseries to be fascinating, but also frustratingly inconclusive and lacking evidentiary support. Still, I think it’s worth a watch considering its commentary on mental disease, identity crises, and one of the most profitable businesses in the United States: professional football.
Admittedly, I am not an enthusiastic football fan, but I do remember hearing about Aaron Hernandez after his 2013 arrest. Still, it didn’t have a huge impact on me. I had just returned home from a short stint in New York City. My life was kind of a mess, and I was focused on getting a job. Watching this documentary helped me to understand just how dramatic his rise and fall were; almost on par with O.J. Simpson’s indictment for the murder of his late wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman.
The series explores Aaron Hernandez’s childhood in Bristol, Connecticut, raised by his machismo, football star father, a seemingly aloof mother, and his older brother DJ, a football talent in his own right. Like his father and brother, Aaron was blessed with natural talent and athleticism. He blossoms in all sports, but particularly football. This leads to an eventual three-year stint at the University of Florida, a National Championship, as well as the John Mackey Award in 2009. In 2010, he is a fourth-round draft pick by the New England Patriots, despite his first draft talents. We learn that this is because of disquieting and concerning questions around Hernandez’s character, including drug abuse, incidences of violence, and seedy associations.
And the murders. In 2012, Aaron murdered two innocent men that he encountered at a Boston nightclub on a slow Sunday evening. Their names were Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado, 29 and 28, respectively. They were immigrants working hard to make a living with no criminal histories or associations. In 2013, Aaron murdered Odin Lloyd, a minor league football player and well-regarded son, brother, friend, and teammate. He also attempted to murder his “friend”, Alexander Bradley. What’s mind-boggling about this is Aaron’s double life, as both a murderous “gansta” and as one of the best tight ends in one of the most successful NFL organizations. At his peak, he signed a five-year $40M contract with the Patriots in 2012 after a successful 2011 season that included scoring in the Superbowl game. The purpose of the docuseries is to find out, why?
The documentary drops a bombshell that Aaron may have been gay despite his engagement to Shayanna Jenkins and his child by her, Avielle. A high school football friend and teammate recounts a secret sexual relationship between the two. One of his defense lawyers, who is gay, reminisces on a conversation between the two when Hernandez asked if he thought homosexuality is something one is born with. A few Patriots teammates recall some rumors they had heard. We hear that Aaron’s dad was a man’s man, and would not tolerate any behavior he deemed homosexual or anything but stereotypically masculine. Beyond this, we aren’t given any sort of corroboration, evidence, or comments, least of all from Aaron. If, as the documentary suggests, Aaron’s murderous behavior was affected by an identity crisis of sexual orientation, they would’ve explored that more thoroughly.
Another possible reason, or excuse, depending on your perspective, was Aaron’s brain health. After Hernandez’s suicide in 2017 while incarcerated, his brain is studied by preeminent Dr. Ann McKee who studies neuro-degenerative disease at Boston University in their CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) Center. She reported that Hernandez’s brain showed signs of advanced damage.
“We can’t take the pathology and explain the behavior, but we can say collectively that individuals with CTE of this severity have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, aggression, often emotional volatility, and rage behavior,” McKee said.Hohler, B. (2017, November 9). Aaron Hernandez’s brain was severely afflicted by CTE – The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/patriots/2017/11/09/doctor-details-her-findings-after-examination-aaron-hernandez-brain/USjpN1t5Ic02JPG20heeVN/story.html
While this is a more evidence-based theory, we have to remember that many football and contact sport athletes also suffer from CTE. There have been cases of both self-inflicted and outward violence, however, there is no indication that the majority do.
Another theory was Aaron’s childhood and home life. We hear a few times that his father, Dennis, was abusive to his mother, Terri. Aaron’s brother DJ recounted in his memoir that Aaron was sexually abused by an older male babysitter during a game of “hide and seek”. And after his father’s shocking death from complications of hernia surgery, his mother gets together with the husband of Tanya Singleton, Aaron’s cousin and confidante. Disturbing, yes? But an excuse for murder? No.
The National Football League and the New England Patriots don’t escape the finger-pointing. It does appear that at worst, they knowingly concealed, and at best maintained a willful ignorance of Hernandez’s bad behavior and shady associations all for the sake of protecting the organization and their profits. Soundbites of Roger Gooddell and Robert Kraft espousing the advantages and healthiness of American football hammers home the “greed is good” interpretation of the league and the very ardent reminder that it is still a for-profit business. Even back at the University of Florida, Hernandez never had to face the consequences of his violent, typically unprovoked behavior. Why? Because he was a football star.
While it’s clear to me that all of these factors certainly play a part, Aaron Hernandez was a sociopath. For example, his behavior shown via home security recordings the morning after the murder of Odin Lloyd is telling. He hangs out with two associates that participated in the murder, playing with his baby, and acting relaxed. He does not appear at all concerned about what he had just done. His ability to compartmentalize and his apparent lack of empathy are hard to believe, though suggest someone sociopathic by nature.
It’s certainly a thought-provoking documentary and the Shakesperian drama of Aaron Hernandez’s rise and fall is highly entertaining, but I felt that it failed to explore or provide enough evidence around its assertions. Perhaps that was McDermott’s intent, but for me, there could have been a few more episodes to really explore all of the factors, and more importantly, to hear from other, less peripheral sources in Aaron’s sad life.
My takeaway from this documentary? I do not feel a tangible amount of empathy for Aaron Hernandez. Even with all of his misfortunes, he made horrible choices based on self-created paranoia and the desire for attention. He was professionally successful and rich. There was no reason for him to lead a “gansta” double life. There are plenty of people that have dealt with the same obstacles he did: a crisis in sexual orientation, a dysfunctional upbringing, brain damage, or being part of an unethical system that will protect you as long as you make them money. He snuffed out innocent lives and didn’t seem to be bothered by it, except for the fear of being apprehended. What a waste.
What did you think of Netflix; documentary, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez? Leave a comment below!
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