Yesterday morning at about 9 AM, I woke up to a text from my mom to see if I had heard the latest news that broke out. Right before I responded, I scrolled through my Facebook timeline to see a link to an ESPN article titled “Aaron Hernandez Commits Suicide in Prison Cell”. Putting it simply, I was in shock. Seeing a story like his come to an end in such a tragic way was difficult to take in.
The Patriots were scheduled to visit the White House that day, being the first championship team to visit President Trump in office, despite boasting small numbers in player attendance. The following day would have the 2017 NFL schedule released to the public, with tickets going on sale in the coming days. Lastly, the NFL Draft is in seven days, creating more exciting animosity in the NFL. But when this news broke out of Hernandez’s suicide, everything else started to fade away, making for a dark day for both the Patriots and the NFL.
I kept thinking back to the first time I had heard of Aaron Hernandez, as a Patriots’ fourth round draft pick out of Florida. As he progressed through the organization, he proved to be a dominant addition to the team, becoming a part of one of the most intimidating “tight end tandems” the league had ever seen paired with Rob Gronkowski. They both combined for 24 touchdowns in the 2011 season and controlled spots in tight end stat categories.
He was well on his way to having a successful football career, but he just couldn’t get himself out of trouble when in the summer of 2013, he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd. It was then discovered that he was involved both in a shooting in Miami earlier that year and a double homicide in Boston in the summer of 2012. He was sentenced for life in prison for the Odin Lloyd murder, but was found not guilty for the Boston and Miami murders on April 14th, 2017. Five days later, he committed suicide.
While I don’t have any sympathy for him and what he did, it’s a tragic story nonetheless. I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook saying that we shouldn’t be calling this a tragedy since he killed people and that he deserved to die. However, there’s another perspective that people are failing to take a glimpse at in this situation which makes the two mutually exclusive.
It’s the tragedy that a player, who had such potential and talent and looked like a sure-fire, accountable weapon for any team, couldn’t step away from gang affiliations despite making a life for himself that would, in the future, lead to a successful and happy career. Yesterday on First Take, Stephen A. Smith reacted to the early morning news and stated:
“He gets no sympathy from me. As far as I’m concerned, he got off easy… The best we can do for both the Odin Lloyd family and the Aaron Hernandez is to forget as much as we possibly can about this. Both families didn’t deserve to be associated with that, especially Hernandez’s four-year-old daughter (who will never know her father). He didn’t still have to be on the streets involving himself in gang-related activity. In the midst of signing a $40M contract, catching passes from Tom Brady, being coached by Bill Belichick, and getting checks cut for you by Robert Kraft, how do you throw it all away like that?”
That’s the real tragedy of it all: that he couldn’t escape and leave behind his affiliation for his main success. That, in the end, it’s what ultimately led to his tragic demise.
It’s very hard to understand that once you find yourself affiliated with gang-related activity, it stays with you. Your fingerprints are on everything that that gang has done and will do.
“My disappointment is what sports has meant to so many kids and what it meant to me,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter yesterday on FOX Sports’ Undisputed. “I’m empathetic of the current peer pressure that young people and the decisions they have to make. There’s so many kids that have been rescued from the streets by sports, and I thought [Hernandez] was going to be another case. This was a colossal disaster, and the kid had all the help in the world. He went to the best schools that offer everything from a medical to a clinical to any type of help an athlete would need. Sports was not able to rescue him because he wouldn’t let go of the streets. He was a high school All-American tight end, basketball star from Bristol, CT, went to play at the University of Florida under Urban Meyer, one of the best athletes to ever come out of Connecticut, and he still couldn’t let go. This is the best example of when people say, ‘Money changes you.’ No, it doesn’t. Money just makes you bigger than what you already are. As he continued to go up the scale in athletics, he only continued to get more violent. Sports has saved so many of these kids, but sports couldn’t save Aaron Hernandez.”
Hernandez had the world at his fingertips, but his life decisions and affiliations held him back. That’s the real tragedy.
What also was tough to see were all the jokes about his suicide. Twitter and other social media platforms were quick to mock his death. There has even been association with his death and the controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” which is about a high school student who commits suicide and the aftermath. The Huffington Post wrote that “we have a long way to go when it comes to having a healthy, productive dialogue about mental health” and that this is a perfect example. “Suicide should never be a punchline,” the article states.
As someone who’s been deeply affected by the concept of mental illness and suicide, I saw a lot of problems with seeing all these jokes and how we treat mental illness. While this man did kill people, the fact that he faced demons that tormented him that others with mental illness face as well is very hard to imagine. If we treated mental illness with the sensitivity that it deserves, the more likely people with these issues are to get help. The stigma attached to it often silences those who suffer from it and prevents them from seeking the help they need. So next time you see or make a joke about Hernandez’s suicide, take a second to think about that.
Reports say that there will be a book coming out about his life and what ultimately caused him to take his own life. Based on the rumors I’ve heard about why he did it, I’ll be very interested to read it once it hits shelves.