Was Aaron Hernandez a monster, a mystery, or a little of both?
Shortly after signing a contract worth more than $40 million, the NFL star was convicted of the murder of a friend and subsequently acquitted of a dual murder that was alleged to have started with a spilled drink. He then hanged himself in his prison cell. As the author, writing with Athletic contributing writer Anderson, straightforwardly recounts the lives they shared, he recognizes the warning signs that weren’t apparent at the time: the blows to the head and childhood concussions, the stern discipline by their homophobic father, the blackouts that seemed to flip a switch in Aaron’s psyche, their father’s death and their mother’s behavior that tore the family apart, and the unsavory characters who became Aaron’s friends. The murder that landed him in prison came as a shock but not exactly a surprise, though the author never explains a motive or even the nature of the relationship between Aaron and the man he killed. One of the mysteries came to light while Hernandez was in prison: He was gay, he told his mother, and had been since he was forced to perform oral sex on an older boy when he was a child. He had struggled with his sexuality ever since. In his shame, he repressed it and denied it, but it was an essential part of who he was, and he raged against it. Another mystery didn’t reveal itself until after his suicide: Doctors examined his brain and found that, as the result of multiple concussions, “Aaron suffered the most severe case of CTE ever discovered in a person his age…[in] a brain area critical to decision-making, judgment, and cognition.” The diagnosis helped explain the sudden shifts of mood, paranoia, and violent outbursts, some of which had been obvious long before he went to prison. Maybe such impulses could have been contained, or treated, if only someone had recognized the warning signs.
Short chapters offer an inside, but hardly definitive, look at a very troubled man.