Aaron Hernandez seemingly had it all. He went from catching passes from Tim Tebow to snagging touchdowns from Tom Brady. The New England Patriots rewarded him with a $40 million contract before his 23rd birthday. And with a daughter and fiance, his family life appeared to be set.
Yet, he threw everything away. Instead of building a Hall of Fame legacy with the greatest dynasty in sports, he never played football again. The world tuned in to his two murder trials and watched an NFL star fall from grace. Things took an even stranger turn when Hernandez died by suicide just days after being found not guilty in a double-murder trial.
Three years later, Hernandez remains a mystery. Did CTE play a factor in his violent behavior? Did his upbringing expose him to trauma that few knew about? These are just some of the questions that remain unanswered since the tragic death of Aaron Hernandez.
Aaron Hernandez quickly became a star for the Patriots
Dating back to his days at Bristol Central High School, Aaron Hernandez simply looked like a man amongst boys. His talent earned him a scholarship to the University of Florida. He became one of the top tight ends in the country playing in Urban Meyer’s spread system. After spending three years catching passes from Tim Tebow, he took his talents to the NFL.
Hernandez fell in the 2010 NFL draft due in large part to character concerns. Teams had doubts about his maturity. He had been involved in several incidents in college, including failing drug tests. However, the Patriots scored a terrific value pick by snagging Hernandez in the fourth round.
Along with fellow draft pick Rob Gronkowski, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound tight end quickly emerged as a mismatch. Hernandez caught 45 passes for 563 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. In his second season, he finished third on the team in catches (79), receiving yards (910), and touchdown receptions (7).
New England handed the emerging superstar a $40 million contract in August 2012. Hernandez suffered through an injury-marred campaign and posted disappointing stats. However, injuries wouldn’t be the biggest battle he’d face by the time 2013 rolled around.
The former NFL star faced two murder trials
On the field, nobody could stop Aaron Hernandez. Off the field, he proved to be his own worst enemy. Less than a year after signing a life-changing contract, he found himself in the headlines in relation to the murder of Odin Lloyd. What ensued still ranks as one of the most unbelievable stories in the history of the NFL.
New England released the tight end after he officially got arrested and charged with first-degree murder plus five gun-related charges. A long trial ensued that included Robert Kraft taking the stand. Ultimately, the jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree. Hernandez received a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Still, Hernandez faced another murder trial. This time, prosecutors charged him with the killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Jose Baez, Hernandez’s attorney, provided a strong defense. On April 14, 2017, Hernandez got acquitted of the murders. He was found guilty of possession of a handgun.
The legal victory represented a bit of positive news for Hernandez and his family. But what ensued just days later could only be described as stunning.
Hernandez’s tragic death left more questions than answers
Less than a week after a jury found him not guilty in the double-murder trial, Aaron Hernandez died by suicide in his prison cell. According to CNN, he hung himself and stuffed cardboard in the tracks of his cell door to make it more difficult for officers to access him.
Correction officers found Hernandez amid a gruesome scene, with drawings on the wall and “John 3:16” markings written in a substance consistent with blood, the investigation found.
The biblical verse marked in blood left many to wonder what message Hernandez was trying to get across. After all, why would he take his life after getting acquitted in the drive-by shooting case?
His tragic death raised even more questions in recent years. Researchers found that the former NFL tight end suffered from severe CTE. Earlier this year, Netflix released a docuseries called Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. The series touched on a number of elements of his life, including his childhood upbringing, drug use, and legal troubles.
His former high-school teammate, Dennis SanSoucie, claimed the two “experimented” sexually. Hernandez’s sexual orientation actually became a big storyline right before his death when investigative journalist Michele McPhee joked about the topic on a local radio show.
The Boston Globe also conducted an investigative series that found Aaron Hernandez had been beaten by his father and sexually molested as a child. Ultimately, it’s impossible to ascertain what exactly led Hernandez down the path he chose. What is clear, though, is that his death left many questions unanswered.