The New England Patriots will visit the White House on Wednesday, celebrating yet another Super Bowl championship with yet another president.
In a different world, it’s easy to imagine Aaron Hernandez joining them.
As recently as 2013, Hernandez was one of the NFL’s most promising young tight ends, forming a devastating duo with Rob Gronkowski. He signed a big-money contract extension and appeared to be on the edge of superstardom, primed to help lead New England back to Super Bowl glory after a decade of disappointment.
Now more than ever, that feels like a million years ago.
Hernandez, who spent nearly the last four years in prison, was found dead in his cell at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass., in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The Massachusetts Department of Correction said in a statement that Hernandez committed suicide.
“Mr. Hernandez was in a single cell in a general population unit,” the statement read. “Mr. Hernandez hanged himself utilizing a bedsheet that he attached to his cell window. Mr. Hernandez also attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door with various items.”
This occurred just five days after Hernandez was found not guilty of a 2012 Boston double murder and less than 12 hours before the Patriots — including 14 of his former teammates — were set to be honored in Washington, D.C.
The juxtaposition between those two events is as surreal as it is tragic.
The death of Hernandez, whose life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd continued despite his recent acquittal, brings an end to a heartbreaking chapter in Patriots history. Hernandez’s actions destroyed a promising football career and — far, far more importantly — irrevocably damaged multiple families, including his own.
Now, at just 27 years old, he is gone.
His 4-year-old daughter, who was present in the courtroom during Hernandez’s most recent trail, will grow up without a father. Lloyd’s loved ones will continue to mourn the death of their family member while grappling with the still-unanswered question of why exactly he was killed. The same goes for the families of Daniel de Abreau and Safiro Furtado, who had been pursuing wrongful death civil suits against Hernandez.
Evidently, the guilt over having caused this heartbreak was too much for Hernandez to bear.
Thumbnail photo via The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports Images