“People talk about OJ Simpson. OJ was a retired football player, who was involved in a string of domestic violence. We’ve seen this kind of crime before. No one has allegedly murdered two people and then played an entire season as a professional athlete. We’ve never seen something like that.”
It is in episode two of Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (available now on Netflix) that we get this comparison between Hernandez and OJ Simpson. While the NFL-player-faces-murder-trial stories aren’t exactly plentiful, you do get the sense that the Hernandez and OJ tales form vastly different arcs.
Well, at least it feels that way initially.
The 2016 Oscar-winning OJ: Made in America was a look at history, race relations and society as much as it was to do with the trial of Simpson. Killer Inside, however, seems very much like a psychological analysis of Hernandez, an attempt to decipher why the former New England Patriot did the things that he did. It is a valiant attempt, but it is unlikely we will ever get the full truth.
For those coming fresh to the story, the three-part series is a binge-fest. Netflix have consistently shown a steady hand in the true crime genre, and have put already-established facts on screen here in a compelling manner. But, for those who have consumed much of the Hernandez content that is already out there, don’t hold your breath for explosive new details about the actions that saw Hernandez end his life behind bars.
Instead, director Geno McDermott gives us a deeper understanding of certain areas of Hernandez’s life, most notably his sexuality. Dennis Sansoucie, a teammate of Hernandez’s at Bristol Central High School in Connecticut, speaks about the “on and off relationship” he had with Hernandez in junior year of high school.
“Aaron participated with many people. I was a small piece of Aaron’s sexual activity,” he says.
“In school there wasn’t a lot of kids that were out of the closet, and the few that were, I used to feel like ‘Golly, what a homo. Like, here I am, the football player.’ I was in such denial.”
It is a subject that becomes significant in the trial of the double murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, for which Hernandez was acquitted.
George Leontire, an attorney for Aaron Hernandez discusses the motive that “Aaron was a closeted gay man, who lived in an extraordinarily homophobic world of sports, and that conflict made him strike out in anger against people.”
It is a controversial suggestion as a possible motive, and the evidence of the documentary suggests that it is far too simplistic a suggestion. Hernandez talks glowingly about his football career, never seeming like a prisoner in that environment. The Patriots organisation arguably saw the best side of Hernandez during his 20s.
Ryan O’Callaghan, former offensive tackle with the Patriots, is a worthwhile contributor to the documentary, speaking about his own experiences as a closeted gay NFL player.
“I had to suppress that as much as possible,” he explains.
“Football is a very masculine sport and I relied on all the stereotypes of a football player.”
That suppression of his sexuality while playing sport might have had some impact on Hernandez’s behaviour, but it is unlikely to have been as big a factor as, say, his childhood when Aaron is believed to have been sexually molested, according to his brother, DJ.
Furthermore, Hernandez’s father is described as “a man’s man”, who would have taken a dim view of the coming out of one of his sons. He doled out beatings to his children and his wife, but his sudden death had a profound impact on the young footballer.
It is impossible to gauge what level of psychological trauma such events had on Hernandez, but a more scientific analysis has been done of the head injuries he suffered as a football player. Diagnosed with stage 3 CTE after his death, McDermott takes a deeper look beyond the NFL as to why his brain had deteriorated to that point.
There is an anecdote told of Hernandez getting knocked out cold in a high school game, while former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland talks about the prevalence of painkiller Toradol in college football. Hernandez didn’t just start playing through bangs when he got to the professional ranks.
What is clear from Killer Inside is that we will never know fully why Aaron Hernandez became a killer.
To return to the OJ contrast, we can fairly accept that Hernandez’s mind is a far more complex case study, shrouded in more mystery than sense. But perhaps there is more of a parallel between this Netflix study of Hernandez and the ESPN masterpiece on OJ than first meets the eye. Maybe the Hernandez story, like OJ, is indeed a story of society.
Society dictated that Hernandez felt uncomfortable revealing his true sexuality and football’s place in society ensured that a young footballer would not survive a career without sustaining brain injuries. Maybe Aaron Hernandez’s life would have nosedived without societal factors anyway, but there is a compelling case now that it accelerated his descent, at the very least.