Tragedy is the word most often used to describe the rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez.
Waste is more appropriate. Hernandez could not let go of his past, with all its unsavory relationships and ties. Because of that weakness, he wasted his talent on the football field — and in his life.
The former New England Patriots star was found hanged in his jail cell early Wednesday morning — the same day the Patriots were scheduled to meet with President Trump to celebrate their fifth Super Bowl victory. Coincidence? Or mad desire to grab the headlines from the team that once offered him the path from a challenging upbringing to fame, riches, and acclaim?
His death comes just as events offered him a glimmer of hope that somehow he might escape his life sentence for murder. Hernandez, 27, had just been acquitted of double murder in the deaths of two men who were killed in a drive-by shooting in Boston in 2012. He was appealing an earlier murder conviction in connection with the death of Odin Lloyd, who was found shot in an industrial park near the North Attleboro home where Hernandez lived. His lawyers were laying the groundwork for a new defense in the Lloyd case. Ronald Sullivan Jr., one of those lawyers, told “Greater Boston” host Jim Braude on Tuesday night that he did not believe Hernandez “pulled the trigger on Odin Lloyd, and I don’t think he’s responsible for that death.”
Jury acquits Aaron Hernandez of murder charges
Talking about the Hernandez acquittal in the drive-by shootings of Daniel deAbreu and Safiro Furtado, Sullivan said, “the Commonwealth got seduced by the celebrity of Aaron Hernandez.” Prosecutors, he said, wanted to get a “big celebrity ex-football player conviction.”
Except for the families of the murder victims — weren’t we all a little seduced by the celebrity of Aaron Hernandez? Always, the question was, how could he throw it all away? The headlines were all about tragedy — the tragedy of losing the wealth and status he had attained through football.
When asked to respond to the name “Hernandez,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick replied “tragedy” in a recent CNBC interview with Suzy Welch. “Heartbreaking,” she added. “That would be another word,” he said.
And as a play, his life did roughly fit the outlines of a tragedy, encompassing tragic events that led to the downfall of the main character. But Hernandez was the accused perpetrator of tragic events that took the lives of others. Their deaths were heartbreaking for their families. Newsweek came closer to getting it right in 2015 after the Odin conviction: “Guilty of murder and of wasting his own golden life,” read the headline.
On the football field, Hernandez was known for dragging would-be tacklers along with him for extra yards after contact, fighting for every inch to make those precious first downs. He never gave up on a play.
All that willpower for a game. Yet he couldn’t exercise willpower off the field, in life.
What a waste.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.