The new documentary on Netflix entitled Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez offers a look back on the NFL player’s life and insight into his mind with interviews from childhood friends and jailhouse recordings of his calls with family members, but does it ever really answer why? Why would a successful, professional athlete with a 40 million dollar contract involve himself with unsavory characters and murder people? They and the whole world over are asking the wrong question by focusing on what he was giving up instead of asking what caused him to not care about a human life. The documentary focuses on his life-long involvement with playing football, which ultimately resulted in a diagnoses of CTE after his death, his undercover lifestyle of being gay, and his strict upbringing, but never really nails down what motivated him. What happened to a person that they thought killing was an acceptable response to minor issues in their lives?
The truth is that he was already who he was long before he started playing football in Florida. At that point, he had already formed the basis of who he was and everything else only magnified the situation. The one point that was most striking to me from the documentary was that he scored 1 out of 10 in the category of ‘social maturity.’ Although CTE contributes to impaired judgement, impulse control, aggression, and depression, I feel that the damage done to his brain exacerbated an already existing problem of immaturity. Coupled with the fact that his father forced him to become the athlete that he wanted instead of teaching him how to grow into a man, he never learned how to accept responsibility, how his actions affected others, or had empathy for others that he hurt. After his father died, he was free to be himself and as he had never been taught to be responsible, he became even more irrational. Although he had varying feelings for his father, his father was the one constant in his life and it was now gone, leaving him to feel abandoned and even more hurt.
As a child, he experienced the dual nature of his father, who strived to be a community figurehead but was also secretly physically abusive in the home, which Aaron unknowingly emulated. He had no one to turn to as he could not trust his mother after she essentially abandoned him in order to pursue a relationship with his cousin’s husband. Because he had no one to trust and no example to model himself after, he chose to become his father. Hernandez’s brother, DJ, also writes that he may have been sexually assaulted at an early age for a prolonged period, which may explain his confusion on his sexuality, his promiscuous lifestyle, and his drug habits. He was clearly abusing drugs as a cry for help, covering up deep pains from his childhood from sexual and physical abuse, feelings of abandonment from the death of his father and his mother, with no emotional outlet because it wasn’t valued. He grew up in a middle class family and neighborhood, but sought out those who were involved with drugs and destruction because he couldn’t control what was happening to him and he thought that if he achieved a certain image, he could control those around him. He wanted others to acknowledge him and accept him while never divulging who he truly was.
In one jailhouse recording with his mother, he states that he had to go to college, and it is reported that Urban Meyer appealed to his high school principal to let Hernandez graduate early so he could attend college. Although he had experienced a lot of trauma already, this may have been one of the more triggering traumas for him because he was truly alone and said so to his mother. He felt that his mother was not there to protect him as he was spirited away to a school he didn’t’ know and people who had no understanding of who he was simply so they could use him for his physical prowess. A 17-year-old boy who was emotionally damaged and using drugs to cover up for it with no support would not fare well and he didn’t. Because he never learned about becoming mature, he handled the situation as a 16-year-old boy, perennially stuck in the age he was when his father died, did. He was rash, moody, angry, and everything else that described a teenaged boy while everyone else saw a 6’ 2” man. For the first time in his life, he was on his own and tested the limits. He eventually came to see that he could get away with many things because of who he was.
He hid being gay because he was ashamed of it. He hid his personal life from his professional life because he learned it from his father. He sought out multiple sexual encounters because he was still emotionally scarred from being molested. He never learned to trust others because his mother had betrayed his, so he carried guns and knives and hired bodyguards, seeing problems at every turn. He caused domestic strife to his girlfriend and child because he had experienced it as a child. And through it all, he didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with it, so it all came boiling out in various ways where he self-harmed, harmed others, and destroyed his own life. He killed others not only because he didn’t value their lives but mainly because he never learned to value his. He killed others because in a world where he couldn’t control the outcome of his life or the game he played in, he could control this. To him, he was only worth what he did on the field. Without football, he was nothing. And that may be why he killed himself.
None of these reasons excuse his crimes or exonerate him in any way, but they shed light on a troubled person who may have been helped if caught early on.