Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.’
—Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
Aaron Hernandez heard the words, “You are committed to the MCI-Cedar Junction for the term of your natural life without the possibility of parole.” The 25-year-old Hernandez fixated on “life without the possibility of parole.” The 50-year-old Hernandez will come to rue the “committed to the MCI-Cedar Junction” part.
MCI-Cedar Junction sits about a mile, as the crow flies, from the Gillette Stadium complex. And not much sits between the two to absorb the noise of the latter from penetrating the former.
The word “guilty” won’t rank as the most horrifying sound Aaron Hernandez hears while in state custody. It’s the roar of New England Patriots fans. The clamor that once pumped up the emotional tight end will soon deflate him. Hernandez might escape the hectoring cheers behind the thick walls of Walpole’s prison. He surely won’t elude them in the yard. Every year, the fans who once loudly applauded him will allow him to eavesdrop on what his life might have sounded like. He may never contemplate the victim he snuffed out. It will be Andy Dufresne-difficult to escape Sunday’s surreal sonic reminders of the other person he wasted.
The poetic-justice plot twist that sentences Hernandez to hear the soundtrack of his might-have-been existence on a loop for eight Sundays every autumn strikes as something out of Roald Dahl. The loyalty and betrayal unleashed by the Bristol-Blood-turned-New-England-Patriot comes straight from Shakespeare.
The Iago in cleats did not just murder his good friend. He subtracted a son from his own mom who had already lost a husband a decade ago. He set sister against sister in a third family. Hernandez fiancée Shayanna Jenkins sat on the defense side of the courtroom. The victim’s girlfriend Sheneah Jenkins sat on the prosecution’s side. Where will the estranged sisters sit at Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Ironically, like Hernandez’s loyal fiancée, the self-described “dupe” who locked #81 up for five years at $40 million in 2012 helped lock him up for life in 2015.
“He changed my life,” Hernandez said of Patriots owner Robert Kraft in 2012. “He, personally—he’s the one who has the final decision. Him saying, ‘I want you around here for the next seven years,’ since it’s a five-year extension, is that he wants me a part of his family. I’m a part of the Patriots family. He set me up for life.”
He set him up for life all right.
One juror cited the Patriots owner’s testimony as key to finding Hernandez guilty. “One part for me was Aaron’s alleged statement that he wished that the time that Odin was murdered was made public because he was at a club at that time,” the juror explained of Kraft’s testimony recalling what Hernandez had told him in his office. “To this date we just went through a three-month trial, this is now a year-and-a-half or two years later — we still don’t know the exact time of Odin’s murder specifically so I don’t know how Aaron would have had that information two years ago.”
One hears the All-American Gator’s name in conversation inside the locker room in Mr. Kraft’s sprawling complex about as frequently as “David Tyree.” It’s just not the Patriot Way. Instead, according to a source, the versatile player’s former friends in the receiving corps cryptically refer to him—after an obligatory right-left-right, coast-is-clear glance—as “homeboy,” whispered in low tones, whenever he comes up in conversation, which isn’t often. While Bob Kraft’s current employees likely won’t make the short drive to Walpole to visit their former teammate at MCI-Cedar Junction, a homeboy from his halcyon days in Gainesville might be up for a jailhouse reunion. Tim Tebow, who spearheads a prison ministry, enjoys free time as an unemployed quarterback. Aaron Hernandez, who headed to prison on Wednesday, would be employed in the NFL if not for a few legal complications. They can perhaps come together on the derailment of their football careers. And on what else?
Like so many enthralling stories, foreshadowing, or at least the pre-draft scouting report—Hernandez rated a one out of ten on a test gauging “social maturity,” scored a wrong-end-of-the-bell-curve 17 on the Wonderlic, and earned a designation as “a problem” by the athlete evaluators Human Resource Tactics—outlined the future for any paying close attention. They call Aaron Hernandez, “A.H.,” after all.
A.H.’s devotion to weightlifting and tattoos and older men called “sir” bossing him around and the wearing of uniforms and the eating of a starch-rich diet and communal showers demanded a life in the NFL, or life in prison, or both.
The 2013 Pop Warner Inspiration to Youth Award-winner’s life overflows with painful irony. “Hopefully,” Hernandez explained upon scoring a lucrative contract extension a month after allegedly murdering two immigrants in a drive-by, “I make the right decisions with it and have a good life.”
Aaron Hernandez faced a fork in his road. He could have continued on the $40 million Route 1 to Foxboro or travel back on the road-to-perdition Route 1A to Walpole. You hear the cheers at either facility. They just don’t sound quite the same.