And so, in the end, this is how it finished for Aaron Josef Hernandez, a 27-year-old man from Bristol, Connecticut who was both uniquely gifted and hopelessly troubled: in a jail cell, hanging by a bed sheet, the latest horrific example, on so many levels, of what might have been.
So let’s get this out there now: part of me initially felt bad for Hernandez. A very small part, to be sure, but a part nonetheless. Stupid, right? The easy response here is a shrug, some sort of implementation of the human defense system, because Aaron Hernandez ultimately got what he deserved. He had no regard for human life.
The problem is that we do.
But now, hours later, here is what you should truly feel — and what I feel: anger.
Make no mistake, folks. Aaron Hernandez was a coward at his core, someone convicted of murdering one man (Odin Lloyd) and recently acquitted of killing two others, who allegedly shot another man in the face (Alexander Bradley) and left him for dead. Had Bradley hunted down Hernandez, as he vowed to do, we all would have nodded knowingly. Well, what did you expect, Aaron? You just can’t go around shooting people in the face and expecting to get away with it.
So what did Hernandez do? He took his own life. Five days after being acquitted for the double murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Hernandez wept when the verdict was read, and speculation followed about the impact of the decision on Hernandez’ appeal for the Lloyd murder. And then Hernandez, presumably, returned to his prison cell with a new lease on life.
Less than a week later, he killed himself. According to initial reports, he placed obstacles in the cell door so that rescuers would be thwarted in any attempt to save him. He was found dangling from a cell window and rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Do those sound like the actions of a man with a new lease on life?
Or do they sound like the actions of a man consumed by guilt, who realized he got away with something he did not deserve to get away with?
Recently, in case you missed it, Patriots coach Bill Belichick did an interview with CNBC in which interviewer Suzy Welch asked him to play word association. When Hernandez’ name was brought up, Belichick responded with one word: “Tragedy.” When Welch countered with “heartbreak,” Belichick accepted that as an answer, too. The Patriots drafted Hernandez in the fourth round, despite questionable character concerns, then rewarded him a multimillion-dollar contract extension two years into his career. He played only one more season before being arrested and charged with murder, the kind of incident that shakes people, let alone a football franchise, to their core.
In the months and years since, the Patriots have done some soul-searching, seemingly altered the way they dole out contracts, moved on. They won two Super Bowls in the last three seasons. Hernandez began to physically rot. Suicide victims often warrant some sort of compassion, some empathy, because the act seems so unfathomable. They possess a weakness and an inability to cope.
In the case of Aaron Hernandez, there is certainly the possibility that he realized last week’s verdict did not really change his life at all.
But if you’re playing the odds, be honest: he didn’t want to live with himself anymore.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.