It was supremely ironic, and not a little tragic, that on the day that his former teammates were on their way to the White House, Aaron Hernandez was on his way to the morgue.
The New England Patriots won two Super Bowls while Hernandez sat in prison, one when he was awaiting trial for murdering a friend, the other while he was awaiting trial for killing two strangers.
Aaron Hernandez played in a Super Bowl on the world’s biggest stage and died in an 8-by-10 cell, at the end of a bed sheet tied by the same hands that once commanded $40 million simply to catch footballs.
The timing of Hernandez’s suicide, just five days after a Suffolk County jury acquitted him of murdering two men in 2012 over some stupid slight in a nightclub, made it all the more unexpected and surprising. In the wake of his acquittal, his showman lawyer, Jose Baez, was understandably cocky, claiming that Hernandez stood a good chance at prevailing in his appeal of his conviction for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.
But if Hernandez’s lawyers and what remained of his posse really believed he had a good chance of getting out of prison, Hernandez’s decision to wrap a bed sheet around his neck suggests he didn’t.
There will be some who believe Hernandez killed himself knowing that by doing so, while his conviction for murdering Odin Lloyd was under appeal, he would die an innocent man, his record wiped clean.
And, of course, there will be some who believe that Hernandez’s conscience finally caught up to him.
Who knows? Only God and maybe Aaron Hernandez.
The families of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, whose murders Hernandez was acquitted of, may find some vicarious justice in all this. The rest of us will scratch our heads and just see it as the final, desperate act in an inexplicably squandered life.
Aaron Hernandez’s life, and now his death, has become a window into and something of an indictment of what we value and idolize. His ability to catch and run with a football led some, first at the University of Florida, then within the Patriots organization, to excuse or overlook transgressions that would have sent others less talented packing.
His defenders, including his mother, insist that his father’s death, when Aaron was 16, led him to rebel against any and all authority. I suppose that’s why, when he was 17, he refused to pay his bar tab at a Gainesville restaurant not far from the University of Florida campus. He punched the restaurant employee who escorted him from the place, bursting the guy’s eardrum.
Five months later, somebody shot up a car full of guys outside a nightclub in Gainesville. The police believed Hernandez was the shooter, but he got lawyered up and was never charged.
Yet again, his talent, which stood to make not just him but many others rich, bailed him out. His propensity to smoke marijuana led to failed drug tests, and dropped his standing in the draft. But the Patriots took him in the fourth round in 2010, a day after they drafted another tight end named Rob Gronkowski.
Hernandez and Gronkowski quickly established themselves as the best young tight ends in football. They also established themselves as party boys. But while Gronkowski seemed to confine his off-field antics to dirty dancing and his substance of choice to Bud Light, Hernandez was drawn to a more sinister element.
He surrounded himself with men who carried guns and copious amounts of drugs. Among the tattoos that covered his arms was one of a smoking gun. On the field, he was an up and coming football star. Off the field, he was an up and coming gangster.
In November 2012, Hernandez became engaged to Shayanna Jenkins, the same month she gave birth to their daughter, and the same month he bought a 7,100-square-foot mansion in North Attleborough. But the trappings of suburban, domestic life were just that.
Earlier that year, two Cape Verdean immigrants, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, were gunned down in their car in the South End. Hernandez had been at the same nightclub as the two victims, and one of Hernandez’s friends, Alexander Bradley, would later claim it was Hernandez who shot them, because one of them bumped into and spilled a drink onto Hernandez and smirked.
During the offseason of 2013, Hernandez seemed to grow increasingly paranoid. Bradley, who routinely supplied Hernandez with drugs, filed a lawsuit in June 2013 claiming that Hernandez shot him point-blank in the face when they were in a car together in Florida. A few days later, Hernandez shot another friend, Odin Lloyd, killing him in an industrial park a mile from that big, beautiful house in North Attleborough.
Aaron Hernandez was out of control, lashing out at friends and potential witnesses like a coked-up mob boss.
When State Police detectives lugged him from his big, beautiful house on June 26, 2013, Hernandez looked like a hulking, male version of the Venus de Milo, his arms pulled from his white T-shirt, tucked behind him, handcuffs poking from behind. The arms and hands that made him all that money were missing.
About 90 minutes later, the Patriots released him and Hernandez assumed his legacy as a metaphor for wasted talent.
Hernandez enthusiastically embraced the ethos of gang life, the guns, the posse, the tattoos. All except one: doing time. Real gangsters accept prison as a price to pay for the life. In the end, Hernandez couldn’t or wouldn’t.
When he was acquitted of murdering Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado last week, Hernandez wept in Suffolk Superior Court. It was an odd and unusual show of emotion from someone who had appeared devoid of it.
In hindsight, maybe he was crying because he knew his victory was Pyrrhic, that it was an empty victory, because he was still heading back to that small cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. He was heading back to the place not where he would live, but where he would die.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.