The story of the rise and fall of All-Pro tight end Aaron Hernandez is arguably the most tragic in the sports world. Hernandez seemed to have it all; he started his journey from the bottom and made it to the top: praised as the top tight end recruit coming out of high school in 2007, named a first-team All-American, selected to compete with the one of the all-time best teams in the NFL, the New England Patriots, and becoming one of the best players in the league.
The world was in his hands. The man had even been given a $40 million contract extension, the second richest extension ever given to a tight end in league history at the time. This was a huge sign that the Patriots organization had great talent on their hands.
Aaron Hernandez, the man from Bristol, Conn., had it all, but then it all fell apart when he was arrested for the 2013 murder of semi-pro linebacker Odin Lloyd in North Attleboro, Mass.
Off the field, Hernandez spent his time with a bad crowd and occasionally used drugs, police said.
“I believe this is the most fascinating, complicated and troubling crime story of our times,” said best-selling author and 48 Hours contributor James Patterson. “And you don’t know the half of it yet.”
Hernandez was convicted of murdering Lloyd in 2015, and in April 2017, he committed suicide in a Massachusetts prison where he was serving a life sentence. He was 27-years-old.
A statement from the Department of Corrections said the former football star was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell in the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass. at approximately 3:05 a.m.
“Mr. Hernandez was in a single cell in a general population unit,” the statement said. “Mr. Hernandez hung himself utilizing a bed sheet that he attached to his cell window. Mr. Hernandez also attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door with various items.”
After his death, in September of 2017, doctors guessed the countless hits he took playing football may have caused Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, better known as CTE, a degenerative brain disease found in people who have suffered repeated trauma to the head. The illness can not be identified until the person has died.
In November 2017, researchers at Boston University revealed that Hernandez had the most severe case of CTE they had ever found in a brain of someone his age. They said, at the time, that the condition would have impacted his decision-making and inhibited his ability to control aggression, emotional volatility and rage behaviors.
“He wasn’t an evil man. No, he wasn’t. He was a sick man,” said Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first to identify CTE in football players.
This led the Hernandez family to file a $20 million lawsuit against the NFL and the New England Patriots organization, claiming they “were fully aware of the damage that could be inflicted from repetitive impact injuries and failed to disclose, treat or protect him from the dangers of such damage.”
However, the lawsuit faces one major league hurdle: Hernandez was not listed among the players who opted out of a concussion settlement with the league.
Players whose careers had ended before July of 2014 “gave up the right to sue the NFL Parties” unless they opted out, according to the settlement.
Hernandez’s last game in the NFL was in January 2013 before he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd.
“By not opting out, his daughter is now bound by the terms of the settlement,” said former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein. “The NFL and Patriots have an easy road to dismissal.”
Should the league and the Patriots organization have some responsibility for the outcome of this man’s life? And should the Hernandez family receive SOME form of compensation?
“As far as responsibility goes, the players going on into the NFL are aware of the risks they take playing the sport,” said Charter Oak Head Athletic Trainer Amanda Seibert. “If they were trying to minimize the importance of concussions and recognition of the conditions, then they should be held responsible. The league and the Patriots shouldn’t be responsible because the injury happened, but they should be responsible for failing to educate the players and letting them know what the risks are if they were to continue playing with any issues.”
Hernandez did receive traumatic brain injury from playing in the league, so both the league and the Patriots should be paying some compensation money.
“There’s a good chance the NFL will come to a settlement in court on a potential compensation award towards the Hernandez family,” Seibert said.
How does one who seemed to have everything he ever wanted throw it all away?
“His story is a tragic story with a tragic ending, which tragically ended the life of one other,” said Charter Oak football coach, Roger Lehigh. “As a coach, I’ve certainly experienced firsthand that there are certainly people with natural talents and gifts that don’t utilize them to the maximum potential. Murder never has an excuse, regardless if there’s a brain condition or not. Had he never killed Odin Lloyd, he would definitely still be a professional football player doing big things.”
The risk of obtaining CTE in football remains a great risk to the athletes who have the desire to pursue a career in college or professionally. When asked if he ever worried about the risks of obtaining this brain condition, senior Charter Oak defensive end and tight end Mario Mora, who has committed to continuing his athletic career at the University of Wyoming, answered in confidence.
“It’s definitely a possibility. In anything in life, there are risks, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take because I’m passionate about what I do,” he said.