Not since O.J. Simpson has an NFL star player created such a media stir as the now deceased Aaron Hernandez. Of course, there are major differences between both their personalities and their crimes.
We know without question that O.J. violently hacked and stabbed to death his ex-wife and Ron Goldman with a knife, notwithstanding the jury’s shameful nullification of the evidence against him, while Aaron Hernandez was probably guilty of shooting and killing at least one person and possibly two others. Ironically, he was just recently acquitted of the latter two murders, though there were witnesses who said he fit the description of the murderer.
O.J. got off scot free and lived a luxurious lifestyle (though his arrogance and stupidity did eventually put him behind bars for the past eight-plus years), while Hernandez was convicted of murdering his friend Odin Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison. He was paranoid about people betraying his trust, and he supposedly was angry at Lloyd for talking to some people with whom he had a beef.
The motivation for O.J.’s heinous crime was not hard to figure out. He was a narcissistic, psychopathic person who for decades had successfully fooled most people into believing he was a lovable, caring individual, though behind the scenes those closest to him knew he had been physically abusing both his first and second wives for years.
In the end, it was Nicole Brown’s shutting him out of her life and thus ending his ability to continue controlling her that caused him to crack and bring to the surface his well-concealed violent nature. His split personality has been dissected by every psychiatrist on the planet, and pretty much everyone now understands who the real O.J. Simpson is.
By contrast, little was known about Aaron Hernandez, except that he had a very troubled life that involved gangs, drugs, and violence. Yet, it’s much easier to understand (not excuse) his sociopathic actions.
By all accounts, Hernandez was extremely close with his father, who himself had been a star football player in high school. In fact, Hernandez was quoted as saying that he spent more time with his father than with any of his friends. Thus, there is little doubt that what caused his turn toward the dark side was his father’s unexpected death from an infection he contracted during a routine hernia operation.
It’s likely no coincidence that Hernandez started getting into trouble after his father passed away, because his mother said he became very angry and estranged from her for several years. Meanwhile, his mother remarried a despicable ex-con who routinely abused her and ultimately attacked her with a kitchen knife. He was subsequently sent to prison, adding to his prior convictions that included violence against small children.
In the meantime, after a spectacular high school career, Aaron Hernandez got a football scholarship to the University of Florida, which one would have thought would lift his spirits and straighten him out. But even though he did consider his Florida teammates to be his new family, he continued to flirt with trouble.
Ironically, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, the archetypal all-American boy, was a teammate of Hernandez at Florida. In a video posted on NFL.com, Tom Brady and Tebow are seen talking about Hernandez prior to a game between the Patriots and the Denver Broncos. “I’m trying to watch over Aaron and Brandon (Brandon Spikes, another of Tebow’s Florida teammates then playing for the Patriots),” Brady told Tebow.
To which Tebow responded, “I appreciate that, too, man. They’re good guys.” Said Brady: “(Yeah) they’re a lot to handle.” Brady’s comment made it clear that Hernandez was still on the wrong path after joining the Patriots.
All this brings me back to an article I wrote about a year ago titled “A Turn in the Road,” the main message of which was that things can happen in people’s lives that cause them to take a wrong turn. Thus it was with Hernandez, who was on top of the world, a genuine NFL star on the greatest football dynasty the NFL had ever known.
He had recently signed a $40 million, five-year contract, the highest in league history for a tight end, when events brought on by himself, coupled with heavy drug usage, caught up with him and caused him to take that dreaded wrong turn in the road.
Strange when you think about it: When Tim Tebow got his chance to start in the NFL, he became the most popular player in the league, leading the Denver Broncos to the playoffs, then a win over the big, bad Pittsburgh Steelers in the first-round with an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime. It looked like he was a cinch to become an NFL legend.
But it was not to be. As Forrest Gump so eloquently put it, “Shit happens.” In this case, the shit was John Elway, former quarterback legend and now executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos, who rewarded Tebow’s spectacular season by shipping him off to the hapless New York Jets. There, brain-dead coach Rex Ryan essentially ended Tebow’s career by sitting him on the bench all season.
Tebow never got another chance to play in the NFL, but is still widely respected and admired everywhere he goes and is almost certain to end up as a major league baseball star, congressman, sports announcer, or in some other high-profile position. He never flinched at his own experience with the unfairness of life and clearly made a conscious decision to take the right path.
But Aaron Hernandez, who enjoyed fame and fortune in the NFL that most football players could only dream of, took a different turn in the road — one that led to crime, imprisonment, and, ultimately, his death. Unlike Tebow, his brain was not wired in a manner that motivated him to turn things around. Which is ironic, because tattooed on one of his arms was one of his father’s favorite sayings, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
As I said in my earlier article, I believe in free will, in man’s capacity to rise above adversity, and in accountability. But I also believe that people sometimes take a wrong turn in the road — for any one of an infinite number of reasons — only to discover that they are not able to find their way back.
Aaron Hernandez made that wrong turn and simply didn’t have the mental tools needed to reorient himself. I feel sorry for Odin Lloyd. I feel sorry for Odin Lloyd’s family. I feel sorry for Aaron Hernandez’s family, including his fiancé and four-year-old daughter. And, yes, I feel sorry for Aaron Hernandez, a tragic waste of talent who didn’t have the mental skills to rise above the loss of his father.