Aaron Hernandez was on the brink of superstardom.
The former New England Patriots tight end was one of the most electric young players in the NFL and had just signed a $40 million contract.
Hernandez was one-half of the dynamic tight end duo with Rob Gronkowski destined to rule the league for the foreseeable future. Then a former accomplice was found dead and slowly Hernandez’s history of pathological violence unfolded in the public eye.
The precipitous fall of Aaron Hernandez ended in April of this year, when the former University of Florida Gator took his own life in his cell at Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley, Mass.
His brain was donated to researchers at Boston Univrsity and the results of the examination have been met with shock by researchers. According to the New York Times,
“The brain scan came as a surprise even to researchers who for years have been studying the relationship between brain disease and deaths of professional football players.”
The level of the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Enteropathy (CTE) caused by repeated blows to the head found in Hernandez’s brain was “the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age,” according to Hernandez family lawyer Jose Baez.
Hernandez played just 3 seasons in NFL, 3 at UF. Yet had "Stage III CTE usually seen in players with a media age of death of 67 years."
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) September 21, 2017
Hernandez’s brain was so deteriorated, “the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60,” according to the New York Times.
This is another brutal blow for the image of the NFL as the league has dealt with a slew of public relations issues after studies on former players’ brains have displayed rampant cases of CTE.
Players like the great Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, Andre Waters, Dave Duerson, and other players have committed suicide with scans revealing severe cases of CTE, while others have displayed violent behavior. Depression and erratic behavior are said to be main traits of the brain disease CTE.
While a concrete connection between Hernandez’s violent behavior and the deterioration of his brain can never truly be made, it’s not hard to imagine that the “most severe case of CTE ever found” in someone this age may have contributed to Hernandez’s murderous behavior.
Hernandez family is now suing the NFL and the New England Patriots on behalf of Hernandez’s daughter. It’s unclear what legal grounds there are for Hernandez’s family to win this lawsuit, but this is a public relations nightmare for the NFL that isn’t going away.
Aaron Hernandez’s story, from making it out of a rough neighborhood in Bristol, Connecticut to becoming an All-American at the University of Florida alongside Tim Tebow to a high-flying young superstar in the NFL to convicted murderer is an absolute tragedy for everyone involved.
There are no winners in this story. It’s just sad all around.
At some point the NFL will have to actually answer questions about the safety of its players, as our understanding of CTE and the long term effects of tackle football is still developing.
Until then, the hits will keep on coming for the NFL.