Four Key Takeaways from Rolling Stone’s Comprehensive New Story on Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez sits in the courtroom of the Attleboro District Court during his hearing on Aug. 22, 2013 in North Attleboro, Mass.

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The new issue of Rolling Stone features a long article about Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL player who, since late June, has been jailed in connection with the murder of the 27-year-old semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. The piece just went up on Rolling Stone’s website, and it is undoubtedly the most comprehensive account I have read on the case. Writer Paul Solotaroff, with the help of Boston Herald columnist Ron Borges, talked to a lot of people—many of whom insisted on remaining anonymous—in order to track the fall of Hernandez, whom Solotaroff dubs “the $40 million man with the restless streak and a bottomless taste for chronic.”

There are many new details in Solotaroff’s story. Hernandez had allegedly been using the dissociative drug angel dust for more than a year—“ ‘which is when all of this crazy shit started,’ ” according to a friend. He allegedly carried a gun everywhere. He had so displeased Patriots coach Bill Belichick with his disruptive behavior—for one thing, he had punched out a window in the house he was renting during a fight with his fiancée—that, Solotaroff reports, Belichick issued an ultimatum: “Any more disruptions and he’d be traded or cut at the end of the 2013 season.” This is just a sampling of what Solotaroff and Borges uncovered. You should really read the entire thing.

The piece has its flaws, to be sure; a section bashing Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots for ostensibly ignoring a gathering storm seems particularly thin. But, in general, the story asks and addresses the right question: “How did a kid so rich in gifts and honors – the most celebrated son in the history of Bristol – grow into such a murderously angry man?” Here’s what Solotaroff and Borges argue:

Hernandez has daddy issues. Big-time. His father, an imposing man named Dennis Hernandez, died unexpectedly in 2006 after a hernia procedure went horribly wrong, and Solotaroff theorizes that this untimely loss is what sent Hernandez down a wayward path. Dennis Hernandez “was bent on getting his sons to do everything right,” writes Solotaroff, “whether it was making the proper blitz read or handing homework in on time, perhaps because he’d squandered his own chance.” (As a teenager, Dennis Hernandez won a full-ride football scholarship to the University of Connecticut, but dropped out after he fell in with a bad crowd.) After he died, Hernandez’s mother married “a physically abusive coke dealer named Jeffrey Cummings,” and this apparently drove Hernandez out of the house and into disreputable company in his hometown of Bristol, Conn. Ever since then, Solotaroff writes, Hernandez had been looking for some sort of father figure, some moral paragon to whom he could turn for guidance and approbation. But in the Rolling Stone account, all he found were people who offered him money, excuses, and opportunities for trouble.

Hernandez was never really punished for any of his transgressions. And this, Solotaroff argues, led to extreme recklessness and feelings of invincibility. This trend began when Hernandez enrolled at the University of Florida, where, Solotaroff reports, football coach Urban Meyer liked to resolve discipline problems in-house, thus allowing Hernandez to avoid serious sanction for incidents including failed drug tests, bar fights, and at least one alleged shooting. (Interesting and relevant is the news that one of Hernandez’s Bristol friends, Ernest Wallace, allegedly “came down to Florida to be ‘Aaron’s muscle.’ ” Wallace has also been charged as an accessory in the murder of Odin Lloyd.) According to Solotaroff, the pattern continued in Boston, where the Patriots left Hernandez alone to do his thing, and accelerated when Hernandez signed a $40 million contract extension last year. Solotaroff cites a widely noted incident from earlier this year in which Hernandez allegedly shot a friend named Alexander Bradley in the face. Though Bradley filed a civil suit, Hernandez faced no criminal penalties. Can you blame Hernandez for possibly thinking that he could get away with murder?

Bill Belichick deserves some blame. Solotaroff and Borges—who, for what it’s worth, is believed by many in Boston to loathe Belichick and the Patriots—are sharply critical of the Patriots’ coach, who, in a quest to keep the team stocked with top-tier talent, “signed so many players with red flags they could have marched in Moscow’s May Day parade.” (As evidence for this contention, the piece musters a bit less than a parade of players, mentioning Randy Moss, an all-time-great receiver who was generally well-behaved during his time with the Patriots, and Donte Stallworth, who was charged with DUI manslaughter after the Patriots released him in 2008. The Patriots re-signed Stallworth in 2012, released him before the season began, and then signed him again that December; he played one game before getting hurt.) Once these players signed, Solotaroff and Borges argue the Patriots had trouble keeping track of their off-the-field activities. Again, Belichick’s fault, according to Rolling Stone; at some point during his tenure, Belichick decided to replace the team’s security chief, a former state cop, with “a tech-smart Brit named Mark Briggs” who had few connections with local and regional law enforcement officers, and who, according to Solotaroff, never got tipped off when Patriots players were courting trouble. And while he was a Patriot, Solotaroff writes, Hernandez courted all sorts of trouble:

Every team knew him as a badly damaged kid with a circle of dangerous friends and a substance problem. Once a Patriot, Hernandez practically ran up a banner that said STOP ME! I’M OUT OF CONTROL! He’d get high all the time driving away from games, say friends of the family, “smoking three or four blunts” in the ride back to his place. He avoided all contact with teammates after practice, even among the guys in his position group, which is unheard of in the league.

When Hernandez was first arrested, Patriots owner Robert Kraft claimed he had been unaware of his tight end’s problems. This is “arrant nonsense,” writes Solotaroff. Maybe. But I’m still not entirely convinced that the Patriots could or should have seen the Odin Lloyd incident coming. Every single NFL roster includes players with “character issues,” or players who are disliked by their teammates. The fact that the Patriots didn’t shadow Aaron Hernandez during his every waking moment doesn’t necessarily mean that they were delinquent. There are some interesting details in this section of the piece, but it still reads like it was grafted onto the article from some other, dumber story.

The case against Hernandez isn’t all that strong. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence against him, but as of yet there’s very little that would mean a certain conviction. The state’s star witness is the “dust-addled [Carlos] Ortiz,” who was with Hernandez on the night Odin Lloyd died, and whose patchy story, according to Rolling Stone, “is probably worthless if he takes the stand.” Hernandez is thought to be paying Ernest Wallace’s legal bills, and Solotaroff and Borges theorize that Hernandez and Wallace might team up to claim that Ortiz shot Lloyd, and that the two of them were merely innocent bystanders. “Without the gun used in the shooting, a persuasive motive or a witness to the crime and its planning, the state’s chances of winning a conviction on murder in the first will depend entirely on circumstantial evidence,” Solotaroff and Borges write. This, of course, doesn’t mean that Hernandez is bound to go free. But, as the story notes, would anyone really be surprised if a guy who has allegedly gotten away with so much in his life escaped punishment once again?

There’s a lot more good stuff in the piece. Read it here, and read it now.

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