Aaron Hernandez: ruthless killer or tragic figure?

Aaron Hernandez was an NFL tight end for the New England alongside Rob Gronkowski. Their partnership was integral to the Patriots’ plans to continue their domination of the league.

However, despite Hernandez being the youngest player on any active roster in the NFL in 2010 after being a fourth-round pick in the draft, he would end up being compared to OJ Simpson rather than Junior Seau.

Aged just 25, he was was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In a separate case, he was tried for but acquitted in 2017 of two more killings. Days afterwards, he was found dead in his cell: the verdict was suicide.

At the time, Hernandez was appealing against his murder conviction. Even if he wasn’t guilty, the Netflix documentary series Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez paints a vivid picture of an angry young loose cannon who was more than capable of pulling the trigger.

The three-parter conveys that it is more likely than not that Hernandez killed Odin Lloyd, his soon-to-be brother in law, but many parts of his troubled life don’t make a lot of sense.

If he did murder Lloyd, he was smart enough to hide the murder weapon and also was calm enough to conceal his emotions. What makes it all the more fascinating is that lawyer Jose Baez may well have got his conviction overturned – so why did Hernandez take his own life?

Mental health

The documentary leaves you in no doubt that something was wrong with Hernandez and, sure enough, it turns out that the man who scored 18 touchdowns for the Patriots had developed a heavily advanced stage of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

This serious brain condition is linked to repeated concussive impacts to the head and has been diagnosed in many ex-NFL stars. The documentary mentions how former Pittsburgh and Kansas City centre Mike Webster was the first player to be identified as having CTE, caused by damage to his frontal lobe and leading to cognitive dysfunction.

Former Patriots linebacker Seau was also mentioned as someone who had developed CTE. He shot himself dead in 2012 at the age of 43.

Since these and other diagnoses, the NFL has set aside $1bn to compensate around 18,000 retired players who have displayed signs of the condition. The fund has paid out $5m in cases of Alzheimer’s, $4m for people diagnosed with CTE, and $3m for those with dementia.

However, other deep-rooted issues were affecting Hernandez before he developed CTE. His violent father died when he was young, and his upbringing is best described as troubled.


The documentary also explored his sexuality, suggesting that he was possibly gay or at least bisexual but remained firmly in the closet because of the macho world of professional sport in which he lived.

The series interviewed a former college footballer who played with Hernandez and he recalled how they had experimented together, and that their relationship was more than just that of being friends.

At one point, Hernandez asked an attorney if people are born gay, and the documentary seems to want the issue of his sexuality to be a key cause of his profound unhappiness, knowing he could never ‘come out’ in the NFL.

There is also speculation that Odin Lloyd had perhaps seen Hernandez with another guy, or found out from someone else that he was gay. We will never know, but would keeping it secret have been enough to make him kill?

Since the documentary’s release, his brother and mother have come forward to say that he did tell the family before he died that he was, in fact, gay so it was a secret that in the end, he could not take to the grave.

Documentary poster image courtesy of Netflix UK. For information about the documentary series, click here.