The recent Netflix documentary series Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, examines the life and death of the troubled former New England Patriots star who was convicted for murdering 27-year old semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez was linked to multiple other murders, including a July 2012 double homicide in Boston and a 2007 shooting in Florida, before he began playing football for the University there, both of which he was ultimately acquitted.
The three-part documentary series explores a multitude of issues the former tight end dealt with, which included a troubled home life and losing his father as a teenager. The documentary also alleges that Hernandez was a closeted homosexual, and it seems to question whether or not CTE may have been a potential reason for Hernandez’ violent streak. When researchers examined his brain after his death, they found the worst case of CTE in someone his age they had ever seen.
The docuseries also takes a look at the time Hernandez spent as a star football player at the University of Florida under then-head coach Urban Meyer, as well as his three-year tenure with the Patriots, and it examines both under a critical lens. Here’s what the the series has to say about Hernandez under the tutelage of both Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer.
Hernandez Heads to the U at 17-Years Old, After Just Having Lost His Father
Hernandez lost his father, Dennis, when he died after a routine hernia operation. Hernandez was just 16 years old. The documentary alleges Hernandez’ father was abusive, which is something DJ Hernandez, Aaron’s brother, has corroborated in his own book. Aaron was initially committed to the University of Connecticut to play football, but he made the abrupt decision to head down to Florida at the age of 17 instead.
Thomas Hodgson, sheriff of Bristol County, Massachusetts since 1997, said Hernandez’ primary source of discipline and structure came “from the guidance his father gave him.” The docuseries suggests that when his father passed, he lost that.
The documentary uses footage of an Urban Meyer interview he and his wife Shelley did with HBO’s Real Sports in 2014, in which they both discuss Hernandez. “He was a guy you would go into the game saying: ‘He’s one of the best players in America. Give him the ball.’ He was that good,” Meyer said of Hernandez, adding: “Football meant everything to him. He was very committed to it. His focus was on point.”
Meyer’s wife Shelley talked about Hernandez coming over to their house multiple times, noting that he had played with their children on numerous occasions. She noted she felt it was “excruciatingly sad” to see him make “decisions that are just horrible. That’s not the Aaron Hernandez I know,” she said at the time.
But, as the documentary series also points out, “Down in Gainesville, there’s a ton of distractions, and head coach Urban Meyer knows that.” And it has since been revealed that Meyer knew about another incident that occurred before Hernandez’ freshman year ended.
April 28, 2007: The Swamp Incident
A 2013 Sports Illustrated article called “Book of Tebow” discusses the night at The Swamp in more detail than the documentary, but the docuseries also gets into what happened. The Swamp is a nightclub in Florida, and when then-Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was 19, and Hernandez was just 17, they went out for a night on the town there.
Hernandez was served two alcoholic drinks, which he did not pay for. When the manager of the establishment came up to him and demanded payment, Hernandez punched him in the ear, bursting his eardrum. Hernandez then ran away so fast, he left his shoe behind, per SI. The police were called, and Tebow cooperated with them. According to SI’s report, Tebow:
“Helped arrange an interview between officers and Hernandez later that night. During that interview, both Tebow and Hernandez said they had already called Gators head coach Urban Meyer and told him about the incident. The police prepared a sworn complaint for felony battery. And then, about two weeks later, an officer visited Michael Taphorn, the injured restaurant manager. ‘Taphorn did state that he has been contacted by legal staff and coaches with UF and that they are working on an agreement however nothing has been finalized.'”
Hernandez was not prosecuted, and Meyer knew what had happened. Yet Hernandez played every game in 2007, and was only disciplined once as a Gator, missing one game for marijuana use. The Netflix documentary plainly asks whether or not Hernandez’ time as a Florida Gator enabled his criminal activity, as he was never punished.
Mike Massey, a friend of Odin Lloyd’s who was interviewed for the documentary said about Hernandez at Florida: “you’re almost at the top of the mountain. So I can see him getting away with a lot of stuff down there. And the more you get away with s–t, the more you feel untouchable.”
According to USA Today, in 2013, Meyer described Hernandez’s brushes with the law in Florida as “very minor stuff. He was questioned about being a witness (to a shooting), and he had an argument in a restaurant, and he was suspended one game (for a failed marijuana test). Other than that, he was three years a good player. That was it.”
Meyer describing Hernandez punching a man and breaking his eardrum as an “argument” seems like a major downplay of a not-so-minor incident. But Meyer did acknowledge making mistakes as head coach of the Gators, just in vague terms. A year later, when Meyer and his wife did the Real Sports interview, he discussed the 31 arrests that occurred during his tenure as Gators head coach.
“We did make mistakes,” Meyer said. “If I look back now, the biggest mistake I probably gave second chances to some people that maybe shouldn’t. But this is someone’s son. I know in my soul we’re doing it right, doing the best we can. Did we make mistakes? We make mistakes (raises hand).”
Stephen Ziogas, a childhood friend of Hernandez, also said in the documentary: “Florida knew what they were getting, you know? They do their due diligence, and they knew that they were getting an unbelievable player that was very, very young with some traumatic, emotional, you know, things that are going to come with him.”
Meyer as ‘Spiritual Advisor,’ and Pressure to Be the Best
One of the primary voices in the docuseries is Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel, who served as executive producer of the program. Wetzel also discussed in the documentary the ways Meyer was said to attempt to mentor Hernandez. “Urban is very involved, works very long hours, meets with all his different players at all times. Aaron would come over to the family dinners. They would meet. Urban said they would have Bible studies together.”
Writer Kevin Armstrong, who also executive-produced the series, said of Meyer’s relationship with Hernandez: “He was trying to mentor and guide him and be a spiritual presence.” But the documentary also makes it clear Meyer knew Hernandez had behavioral issues. In footage from the Real Sports interview, Meyer talked about how “it was a concern” for him whenever Hernandez would go home to Connecticut: “We knew that every time he went home — and that was a concern of mine — every time he would go to Connecticut, I’d have players on my team say ‘watch this guy, watch when he comes back,’ so I would visit with him.” A clip from Meyer’s Real Sports interview can be seen below.
Another element the documentary examines is the pressure college football players face when they play for elite teams. Jeffrey Montez de Oca, associate professor and director of the Center for Critical Sports Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, noted the “tremendous amount of pressure” felt by Hernandez to perform at Florida.
Montez de Oca also noted how profitable and important football is to the University of Florida, and Armstrong pushed this idea further, saying the marketing arm of the University of Florida essentially serves as their athletics department. The docuseries strongly Aaron suggests Hernandez was allowed to keep playing with no repercussions because he an excellent football player.
The documentary also says Hernandez had told people Meyer told him not to come back to Florida for his senior year, so he entered NFL draft at the age of 20. Expected to be taken in the first round, he wasn’t drafted until the fourth. This, the series suggests, is because Hernandez was considered to be a bit of a behavioral risk.
On behavioral analysis tests taken prior to the NFL draft, Hernandez scored the lowest score possible in the maturity section. Armstrong notes that “Aaron was enough of a question mark character-wise that NFL teams hired private investigators” to check into him.
Ziogas didn’t want New England to draft his friend. He wanted Hernandez “as far away as possible” from the Connecticut area, but it didn’t work out that way. According to Wetzel, Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have a relationship with Meyer, and “they leaned on him for advice” pertaining to drafting Hernandez.
On to New England: Patriots Draft Hernandez in the 4th Round
The Pats took Hernandez in the 4th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The docuseries shows footage of Bill Belichick discussing Hernandez’ start with the Patriots. “We got off to a good start with Aaron Hernandez,” Belichick said. “He was a player that frankly we were surprised … that we had the opportunity to draft him.”
Things went well in New England for the first few seasons. Hernandez had a breakout season in 2011, his second year. He had 910 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. The Pats gave Hernandez a $40 million contract just one month after a double homicide he was later accused and acquitted of in Boston.
In retrospect, clearly, there was multiple things troubling Hernandez, and his extracurricular activities were a direct reflection of that, but, as the documentary notes, no one in the Patriots organization ever reported any red flags about Hernandez to law enforcement.
The docuseries interviewed Boston Globe writer Maria Cramer, who covered Hernandez and the Odin Lloyd murder. At one point, Cramer says of the Patriots and Hernandez: “They were happy with what he was doing on the field, and that was enough.”
Patrick Haggan, a prosecutor in Hernandez’s second trial, also noted in the documentary that in 2013, Hernandez wanted out of New England, but was refused by Belichick. “We found out that shortly after February of 2013, Aaron asked Bill Belichick to be traded to a different team,” Haggan said. “He indicated he was in fear of certain elements. In response to that, coach Belichick said ‘no'”
Did Patriots Contribute to Hernandez’ ‘Double Life’?
The Patriots released Hernandez two hours after he was accused of murdering Lloyd in 2013. But the docuseries makes it clear it finds the Pats at least a bit complicit in what ultimately happened with Hernandez. There is also a taped phone call conversation between Hernandez and his ex-fiancé Shayanna Jenkins in which the former tight end alleges the Patriots gave him banned drugs. “All those drugs they shoot you guys up with, and tell you to go out there and play,” Jenkins said to him.
“You know what’s crazy?” Hernandez replied. “They banned that s–t from the league, saying you only could take it if you have a serious injury or something. … Guess who they gave that s–t to every [expletive] game? Me.”
There was also the apartment.
After expressing elements of fear for his and his family’s safety and asking Belichick to be traded, instead of granting him his wish, the Pats suggested he find a more secure abode and helped him get a new apartment. Former neighbor and family friend Tim Sansoucie wondered why New England helped a troubled player get an apartment away from his home.
“You know what bothers me? That the NFL helped him go get an apartment that was secretive somehow. Now the guy’s got a house, why does he need another apartment? And why are you helping him get it? Did you think he was gonna be painting Bob Ross pictures over there?”
Evidence that ultimately helped convict him in the Odin Lloyd murder investigation was found in that apartment.
After Hernandez was accused of murder, the documentary shows footage of Belichick, who says: “As the coach of the team, I am primarily responsible for the people we bring in to the football operation.” And no one had much to say about Hernandez after that.
The documentary shows footage of Tebow, Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski at varying points being asked about Hernandez after he was accused and arrested for murder. None would comment. There was footage of Gronk threatening to walk out of a filmed interview in the past when he was asked about his former teammate.
“It was heartbreaking and it was sad, and we’ve been advised, as I’m sure y’all have heard a bunch of times, not to comment on an ongoing investigation,” Tebow said after Hernandez’ arrest.