DISCLAIMER: This post is not a debate. It does not assume to have the answers to the questions being asked. It is simply the ramblings of a concerned and intrigued psychology nerd. If you choose to share or comment on this article, please keep your comments civil and respectful.
Looking back, I hardly remember the unfolding of the Aaron Hernandez case. I was just seventeen when news of his arrest swept across the country and honestly, I didn’t pay much attention. I was too busy prepping for my senior year to care what some football player was up to.
Now, as I prepare to go back to college and study the human mind, I am both fascinated and completely heartbroken over the life, crimes, and death of Aaron Hernandez. So much so, that I was up most of the night asking myself these questions. Wracking my brain trying to figure out how the story could’ve ended differently.
The first question that came to mind while watching the Netflix true crime docuseries was, “Why on earth is this insanely gifted, incredibly successful athlete so hell-bent on living the ‘gangster’ lifestyle?”
“Aaron wasn’t building these relationships, and he wasn’t having fun with the people around him, and he wasn’t contributing to the enthusiasm and the positive message that is important to success in football. That made me nervous. That made me really nervous.”
– Stephen Ziogas, friend of Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez had a life that, from the outside, anyone would dream of having. He had a successful career, a beautiful woman by his side, a young daughter, and a mountain of money. But what lay behind all the glitz and glamour was a life of emotional and physical trauma, bad decisions, and behavior that should have prompted the people in Hernandez’s life to get him help. This point, however, only leads me to my second question. How do you help someone that doesn’t want or ask for help?
I find myself discouraged. This is a question that haunts me because, in my experience, you can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped. Did Aaron Hernandez want help? I can’t say. The phone calls he made to his mother from prison suggest to me that Mr. Hernandez was longing for someone to talk to. More specifically, longing for his mother to know and accept him for who he was. Unfortunately, simply longing for change is not the same as seeking it. And while certain figures in Mr. Hernandez’s life may have contributed to his anger and aggression, ultimately, he made the decision to pull the trigger and take Odin Lloyd’s life in June of 2013. It is a cold, harsh reminder that we are all responsible for our actions, regardless of what we ourselves may be a victim of.
In my strongest opinion, human life is to be valued, protected, and nurtured. I’d like to think most people probably feel that way. So how does a seemingly normal person who has it all turn into a cold-blooded killer? In this case specifically, I wonder just how much of a role Mr. Hernandez’s extreme case of CTE played in his actions on June 17, 2013.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the term used to describe brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas. CTE is a diagnosis made only at autopsy by studying sections of the brain. CTE is a very rare disorder that is not yet well understood.
– Mayo Clinic
You don’t have to be a neuropathologist to clearly see the extensive damage Aaron Hernandez’s brain had sustained in the scans shown above. Dr. Ann McKee, director of the CTE Center at Boston University, said herself, “This is for a person who was only 27 at the time that he died, he had a very advanced disease. [It was] advanced microscopically, especially in the frontal lobes, which are very important for decision making, judgment, and cognition. This would be the first case we’ve ever seen of that kind of damage in such a young individual.”
Another huge concern for me is the masculinity complex that is seemingly imposed on professional football players. Would this story have played out differently had Aaron Hernandez felt safe to be honest about his sexuality? What if he had been less concerned with how well he fit the “ultra-manly image” and more concerned with working through the issues he carried from childhood? Everything considered, what was the final push that convinced Hernandez to take his own life?
More than any of this, I wonder if there will ever come a time when we can figure out how to spot patterns in those around us and stop violent crime before it happens. Murder doesn’t just ruin the life of the offender, but it stops the life of their victim cold in it’s tracks, stealing away someone’s gift of life, as well as robbing their family and the world of that person and their potential.
My heart breaks for both the Lloyd and the Hernandez family. A case like this brings nothing but pain for all who are unfortunately involved. I hope that we as a society don’t just look at the Aaron Hernandez story and say, “Aww, how sad.” But that we go forward more informed, more vigilant, and more concerned about the mental health of the people we care about.