For a story that supposedly reached a sickening, no-win conclusion with Aaron Hernandez’s suicide in a prison cell last week, there sure are a lot of unanswered questions.
If we could somehow combine all of them into one collective thought, though, it’d probably boil down to equal parts shock, disgust, frustration, and sadness, and if you distill that one step further, it really comes down to one question behind all of those thoughts:
How could this have happened, and how could nobody have seen it coming or stopped it?
Ok, that’s two questions, technically, but you get the idea.
And now we at least have somewhat of an answer, thanks to the fine folks at Sports Illustrated’s MMQB. SI’s Kalyn Kahler enlists the help of three reporters that covered Aaron Hernandez while he was in high school in Bristol, CT, playing college football at the University of Florida, and his three-year NFL career with the New England Patriots.
As luck would have it, at least one of those reporters - the one who’ll be providing the background for Hernandez’s pro tenure - is one that even casual NFL fans know right off the top of their head now. That would be Mr. Ian Rapoport, who was working for the Boston Herald at the time. The rest of the contributing team consists of Shawn Courchesne (ex-Hartford Courant) and Jeremy Fowler, who was covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinal while Hernandez played there under Urban Meyer.
Here’s the part where SI’s Kalyn Kahler asks the question that we’ve all, for better or for worse, wondered at some point during the last four years:
What did the Patriots know?
Here’s Ian Rapoport’s unabridged response:
KAHLER: How much do you think the Patriots knew?
RAPOPORT: I’ve thought about this a lot. The Patriots are an extremely careful and diligent organization. There’s no way in the world they give him a big contract extension if they knew anything that was going on. At one point he talked to the Patriots about trading him away from New England because he felt like he was in danger. I know they knew that. I know Belichick and the Patriots offered to help and hire a security firm. But that is different from being involved in it. To me, there is simply no way that they knew. There’s a PR reason to say the Patriots didn’t know, but there’s also the money reason. There is no way in the world the Patriots waste this money if they had any idea what this would turn into.
And as far as whether there was anything that, in hindsight, seemed like it should’ve been taken more seriously (again, in full):
KAHLER: Looking back on the Hernandez you knew, is there anything that now jumps out at you as a red flag?
RAPOPORT: Yeah, there is one that I think about a lot. I would end up hanging around by his locker a lot. He would do his interviews and we would chat. There weren’t a lot of guys that were just hanging out in the locker room, especially during those years, so we would hang out and we would talk. When we first exchanged numbers, he called me over and said, “Hey I just want you to know, you’re my guy. If you need anything let me know, I will help you out if I can. But I just want you to know, if you f--- me over, I’ll kill you.” I sort of laughed a little bit, and I said, “Don’t worry, I got you, I’ll take care of you.” It was me and this other reporter from CBS Sports, WIlliam Bendetson, and he was standing there and had listened and we kind of turned to each other and both laughed. And then the first text I got after it became clear that Hernandez was the suspect in the murder investigation was from William Bendetson, who was like, Hey remember that day in the locker room?
On whether this whole tragic story will help teams scout players more effectively (the exact question from Kahler is whether there are “lessons (for teams) to learn”:
RAPOPORT: I don’t think so. Teams investigate a lot and we are going to spend the next week talking about all the investigations into Joe Mixon. These things are very real and I think teams try to do a good job at finding out as much as they can about the past. This seems more like an anomaly than anything else. There are some players who come into the league with a history of drug problems who have been violent. I don’t think anyone can say, Alright, this is the next Aaron Hernandez. It is so case-by-case that I really don't think it will affect things that much, and that’s O.K. I think the Patriots and the NFL in general did a lot of things, really everything they could do on Hernandez, and it still turned out like this. So I don’t know that it is going to be one of those far-ranging things.
And at the risk of speaking for everyone here, I’ll include Shawn Courchesne’s penultimate contribution, an answer to the question “Do you have any sympathy for him (Hernandez)?”:
COURCHESNE: I understand the people that say they don’t have sympathy for him because of what he did and is alleged to have done and the monster that he has been portrayed as. I totally understand that, but I think there were mental health issues. Anybody that loses a parent suddenly at 16 years old is going to have some issues. He’s admitted that he started using marijuana after his father died, so a combination of issues in your head and using drugs, and if you’re using drugs you are probably hanging out with people who don’t have your best interests in mind. I have sympathy for 16-year-old Aaron Hernandez, who got caught up in that life because his head was messed up. I don’t have sympathy for the adult who allegedly killed people and became this raging monster. I have a ton of sympathy for his brother who I believe is a really good person and has had his life turned upside down because of this. You look at D.J.’s story, he was a rising coach in college football at Iowa and had to get out because I think mentally, he couldn’t handle all the pressure of dealing with all that he was dealing with on that front. It’s such a tough question because I do understand when people say they don’t have any sympathy for him.
Rapoport simply concluded his answer to the same question with a much more succinct final line:
RAPOPORT: I was just really sad for him, for what his life became, for everyone. I don’t know, I just felt sad. The whole thing sucks.
And we’ll leave it at that.