I’m not a football guy, nor did I follow the Aaron Hernandez drama when it was happening live. However, I DO enjoy myself some murder trial documentaries on Netflix as much as the next basic b****. Therefore, when the former Patriots player (only know that because of this series) was getting a three-part series I could NOT press play fast enough.
Yet again, this isn’t a review of what was good or bad about the series, but rather a desire to go over some of the biggest takeaways from the project.
1: Fine, Sexuality, Let’s Get That Out of the Way: One of the biggest things that this series wanted to touch on was the conversation of Aaron’s sexuality. Within the documentary we have a childhood friend (Dennis SanSoucie) talk about the off and on relationship they had from seventh grade to their junior year in high school. After this experience it would appear that there was no one else to claim they had a romantic or sexual relationship with him?
I appreciate what the episodes did for the conversation over gay athletes in the NFL. That being said, I don’t believe it allowed enough space to dissect the complexity of sexuality. Look, this series was, at its core, about the three murders that Aaron Hernandez was involved with. I get that the focus here was not a three-part series about gay men in the NFL. Roger that.
However, in what segments it was touched upon, I think it could have clarified that sexuality is not a series of boxes. It is not straight, gay, and bisexual. It is a spectrum and each person’s experience with it is unique.
Aaron Hernandez allegedly had this physical (maybe romantic?) relationship with his friend from the age of thirteen to seventeen. Adolescence; a time when we are discovering our sexual identities and preferences, and despite what some are willing to admit- a time of experimentation. SanSoucie makes a great point on screen; at that age they weren’t hanging out with girls after school! Therefore, it can make sense that those kind of encounters with friends can occur.
Hernandez would eventually go on to get engaged and even have a daughter. Does this mean he was straight? Not necessarily, again, not boxes. There is a difference between romantic and sexual interest. One can exist entirely without the other. What the series did well, especially with the use of phone recordings, was show how those years of experimentation, and PERHAPS a bisexual tendency, created a profound sense of shame in a man who did not grow up in an atmosphere where such a thing was permitted.
My heart broke multiple times for the CHILD Aaron Hernandez in this thing. One instance that made me pause was within the first episode when they recall, as a young boy, he was inspired by his female cousins to become a cheerleader and his father “put an end to that very quickly.” He started hating himself for something before he ever even knew what it was.
How ironic! This man is caught on recordings saying so many homophobic things, and yet one of his final defense attorneys, George Leontire, was an openly gay man. He says in one of their final conversations Hernandez asked if he believed someone was born gay. It’s a subtle moment compared to everything else in the series, but it hit so hard; this man like so many others was struggling with that beast until the end.
I appreciate the series using the opportunity to allow men who struggled with their own sexuality to speak openly. For a former NFL athlete ( Ryan O’Callaghan) to go on camera and admit that he had put on weight and tried to be the ugliest he could be so that no one would question why he wasn’t dating women was such a powerful example of just how profound the shame of homosexuality can be; especially in such masculine subcultures.
At the conclusion, on this particular subject within the documentary, I took away a reinforcement to the belief that young boys are not yet men; to attack and shame them for an interest in traditionally female things is to insidiously sexualize them when they are not even in a space of consciousness regarding such internal debates. Secondly, the urgency for closeted athletes in the NFL and any other major sport to speak honestly is needed just as much now as ever. For them to speak on their shame is to liberate themselves from it, inspire their peers to do the same, and ultimately assist in destroying the stereotypes that block so many people from embracing the fluidity of sexuality and identity.
2: CTE What?: So, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease caused by multiple head traumas and apparently a secret epidemic within football. Look, I already mentioned I’m not a football person. I never understood the fuss. However, I know it’s the modern age Colosseum and an affinity for violent activity will never die. Ever. Therefore I have no intention of going on a rant about the need to cancel football. I won’t waste my breath.
All that said, I am content that the documentary shed light on this disease and revealed that Hernandez suffered a severe case himself. No one can control or influence a culture by force. I think the best that can be done is to ensure that facts and stories are accessible so that people can make informed decisions. Knowing what I know about this sport, and not just CTE but the overall strain it takes on a young man’s body, would I want my son to play? NO. There are other sports my boy! However, if it’s his wish to play, or any other young man’s wish to do so, then I hope it’s an open dialogue to understand why they wish to do so, that they understand the risks, and to try and make sure life doesn’t revolve around it.
3: Did He Ever Really Have a Chance?: With the case of CTE that (in my opinion) played a giant role in his violent nature, his terrible relationship with his mother, and the strained relationship with his father, did I think this guy ever really had a chance? No, I don’t.
We roll our eyes to this statement but if there is anything true from these three episodes it is this; You can feed the ego as much as it wants but it will never heal the soul. This man had the wife, the daughter, the house, the millions, the fame, the beauty, and the power; it was not enough to stop his shame, anger, sadness, and fear from completely consuming him. The common mistake is that catering the ego will equate to happiness.
If we need help figuring out the difference between the ego and “the soul” it would be this; the ego is associated with anything and everything that correlates to material gain. Therefore, money, property, clothes, jewelry, and even relationships (HAVING another person is to the ego– the refusal of their desire to leave is the egos reaction to not lose what it wants to possess).
The works lies not with gather things but taking a seat in those thoughts and emotions that spark the impulse to run away as fast as possible. It’s those memories or feelings that make us want to drink, eat, shop, f***, do drugs, etc. The numbing agents that help drown the noise of those things begging to be healed.
I do not excuse the actions of this man at all. What he did was terrible and he deserved his convictions. I look at his tragedy ( it certainly is that) and focus more on other young men struggling through the same things though perhaps not on that scale.
I hope this series encourages those struggling with the issues addressed in the series to seek help. At the same time, those who might recognize someone with similar issues or struggles to reach out and be a source of support; the young boy in this story could have used that greatly.