This three part documentary, spanning just over three hours, on Netflix is a powerful, absorbing look at the world that surrounded former New England Patriots star and convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez who took his own life in prison at aged 27.
The series is created by the same people that made Making a Murderer. The initial credits and title music are akin to that show, and the tone here almost “idolises” Hernandez as if this programme was a rousing biopic. However, after the poor tasting credits, the series strikes very hard at the core of what might have been going on in the mind of Aaron Hernandez since his youth.
What makes this story very unique, is that Aaron Hernandez was living his dream; a forty million dollar contract from the best football team in the league, a supportive wife, a new born child, a huge mansion…so why does he murder his friend?
The frustrating part of this series (and I’m sure frustrating for everyone is involved) is that the “why” is never answered. There is some speculation towards the end, and the only time we hear Aaron’s voice is through a series of haunting prison phone calls to his family, which are sobering to say the least. We never see Aaron testify, but more over we get a glimpse of his life from those surrounding him, from his friends, family and team mates.
There are many deep lying issues that affected Aaron Hernandez that the show uncovers, from an abusive father who died when Aaron was 16, suppressed sexuality, the use of recreational marijuana, the use of pain killers for football, the notion of the “invincible” athlete at both college and professional level and lastly the painful truth about CTE that was only discovered after Aaron deceased and his brain was researched.
While this is not a documentary about football, the fact that Aaron Hernandez was was playing for the New England Patriots, a team, with a squeaky clean image, a team who have won multiple Super Bowls because of their extensive research on their players’, both mentally and physically. Because of this the producers of this programme can not escape the role of football on this tragedy. The Patriots have managed to famously “tame” other professional football players who have had chequered pasts. Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft, described that Hernandez was “part of his family” but then later felt duped.
The show moves around with timelines at a rapid pace, but the animated timeline keeps the audience in the loop at all times. During the trial the likes of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Tim Tebow (whom Hernandez played with at the University of Florida and the Patriots) are explicitly told to not comment on the murder charge, while the Patriot’s themselves allowed fans to exchange in their #81 Hernandez jerseys. It was interesting to see that before the murder charge the team attempted to help Aaron by assisting him with a second home, but the show suggests that this if anything had the opposite effect on his mental health. Robert Kraft takes to stand in the last third episode where Aaron’s football world and non football world come together.
Towards the end, it is discovered that Aaron did in fact have acute CTE, which is blamed on football, and the effects of CTE from football could well have been a catalyst for several of Aaron’s issues and temperament.
The shows portrays professional and collegiate football as a money making, violent inducing spectacle that cares little for it’s players, both physically and mentally. It portrays that superstar athletes can be, or in some cases expect to be above the law. But on the positive side, it does show a positive effect of football and that is from the “Semi- pro” angle. Hernandez’s victim, Odin Lloyd played in a semi-professional football league, in which players “pay to play”. From interviews with his team mate, it is clear to see that not only playing football-(even at semi-pro level) has made those players safe from gangs and street violence, but more over, Odin’s team come together throughout this ordeal in support of Odin’s mother.
The series does not answer any questions per se, and if anything there are so many issues that it touches on, that it is hard for the producers to stick to one angle. While it is not overtly “anti football” it certainly makes the case that the negative impact of football, both in terms of culture and the bruising physical aspect of the sport can be very detrimental. Football did not murder Odin Lloyd, but the show’s final message is “…but if Aaron Hernandez was a concert pianist, perhaps things would have worked out differently” and while I agree things probably would have been different, I still think the deep lying issues within Aaron’s life outside of football, would have meant Aaron would have needed help. It is a real shame that the sport that I love and the league that I follow with immense passion was not able to see that a player needed help long before any one was sadly killed.
Written by Adam Goldstein @tailgateknight