There will be more facts to emerge in the coming days about the death of the convicted murderer and former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was found dead of an apparently suicide in his Massachusetts prison cell Wednesday morning. But whatever the rest of the story is, this is what we know now: Hernandez wasted what could have been a consistent Pro Bowl career, with an all-time great quarterback targeting him endlessly. He wasted it, period. Don’t make any excuses for him. It’s on him. At the same time, he was responsible for the death of a 27-year-old acquaintance, Odin Lloyd, who was found with 10 bullets pumped into him in an industrial park. Hernandez was charged but found not guilty last week in the deaths of two other men in a drive-by shooting, and another man accused him of shooting him in the eye so that he wouldn’t testify in the drive-by case.
So senseless, all of it. Hernandez, with a decade of football greatness ahead of him four years ago, dead. Three others dead, at least one of whom was killed by Hernandez. Another with only one working eye, Hernandez having been accused of shooting him in the face.
Five men, with families. Hernandez, with a fiancée, and now with a 4-year-old daughter who will never know him. Lloyd, with a family still grieving. Two other men, Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu, whose murder cases will now apparently grow cold, with families who left a courtroom last week thinking, Where is the justice for us? And the one-eyed Alexander Bradley. This is a case of a wasted life wasting other lives. That’s why I feel no sympathy for the cold-hearted Hernandez.
I never knew Hernandez, but I do wonder one thing about him: Was the life off the field he chose so inescapable, or in some ways desirable, that you would ruin what you had five years ago, the promise of a long and lucrative career?
Five years ago, Hernandez was on his way to making a fortune, and being one of the best players in the NFL.
It seems so long ago—longer than five years. But that’s how recent it was that Hernandez was essential contributor to a Super Bowl team. Truly: Ask Tom Brady in the postseason five years ago, the year the Patriots lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, who was the more valuable tight end—Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski. Close call. He actually might have said Hernandez.
Check out the numbers of both tight ends in the 2011 postseason, which ended in the 21-17 Super Bowl loss in February 2012: Gronkowski, targeted 23 times in three games by Brady, catching 17 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns … Hernandez, targeted 31 times in three games, catching 19 balls for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Also, remember the playoff game against Tim Tebow and Denver that season? Hernandez added five carries out of the backfield for 61 yards. I covered that game, and I recall Hernandez being the big story for the Patriots that night in Foxboro. He caught a touchdown pass and was Bill Belichick’s biggest weapon out of the backfield.
We’ll never know the rest of the football story, because Hernandez chose another path in life. The only benefit? It’s a pitiable consolation prize, but at least the NFL can add a somber program to its annual rookie symposium. I’d entitle it: Don’t Grow Up To Be Aaron Hernandez.