Mental Health

Aaron Hernandez: Mental Health; Things Aren’t Always as They Appear

Sometimes it is the people who appear to have the most, who have the least coping skills to handle it…

A documentary was recently released on Netflix involving both the intriguing and tragic life of football great Aaron Hernandez. Adoring Patriot fans saw a young-eyed, sweet-faced kid who could do no wrong. And also a superstar who led the Patriots to a Super Bowl win.

But behind the scenes, Aaron Hernandez had a list of mental issues that plagued him. And, unfortunately, he didn’t get the help he needed. After his suicide, it was challenging to decipher which of his many past experiences, previous injuries, or personality traits led to his murder spree.

When it was all over, left in his wake was the death of his wife’s sister’s boyfriend, two strangers who appear to have been nothing but innocent bystanders, and eventually, taking his own life. As you examine all the external influences that shaped him, alongside those things coming from within, it is not hard to see why things went so off the rails. In fact, it is a wonder for many that he made it to the stardom he did.

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Red Flags Missed off the Playing Field

Hernandez was the tight end for the New England Patriots. He was the fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft in 2010. That surprised many because he was favored for the first or second round. And that was just the beginning of many red flags that coaches and professional teams recognized early on. Born in Bristol, Connecticut, he was raised in the middle to lower class family.

His father, Dennis Hernandez, was from Puerto Rico and was married to his mother, Teri Valentine-Hernandez. His home growing up was mirrored with violent fights and drunken arguments that often had his father being kicked out.

The Hernandez’s were married in 1986, they then divorced in 1991, and then they went on to remarry in 1996. Both parents had criminal backgrounds, and even Aaron remembered a very violent household. His father had bouts of spousal and child abuse incidents after drinking. And he would show his intense and often unpredictable temper. 

Childhood Abuse and Violence

Dennis Hernandez was very involved in the path to Aaron’s professional sports career. He pushed Aaron and his older brother Dennis Johnathon Jr. to excel on the playing field. And it was said that Dennis Hernandez was highly abusive to both sons and his wife. He kept a very iron fist on Aaron’s behavior, and Aaron worked very hard to please a tough man. In 2006, Hernandez’s father passed away.

After his death, Aaron acted out against authority figures, becoming very disrespectful and getting into trouble. Aaron became estranged from his mother and moved in with Tanya Singleton, an older cousin. After moving in with his cousin, he discovered that his mother was having an affair. And she ultimately married the man who she had cheated on Dennis with, Jeff Cummings, which only further increased the tension between Aaron and his mother, leading to more criminal outbursts by Hernandez.

Refusing to Take Responsibility 

On many occasions, Aaron Hernandez blamed his mother for his actions, refusing to take responsibility for his behavior. He insisted that his mother refused to pick up his ADHD medication. And therefore, he couldn’t be held accountable for his poor performance in school. Many see the death of his father as the beginning of Aaron’s mental and behavioral decline. Although his father was abusive and not the best role model when it came to controlling his behavior and his reported alcohol abuse, he appeared to keep Aaron’s behavior focused, and his ADHD in check, by using football and other sports as an outlet.

Behind Closed Doors

Hernandez’s father appeared to be a man who had his own demons. But he gave people the impression that he had overcome his past and was a doting father. No one saw the beatings that went on behind closed doors, sometimes erratically for no reason at all. Hernandez and his brother told the story of a childhood filled with a constant fear of being hit.

They were tormented by the fear of being hurt for no reason at all when Dennis was drunk. But there was also a dichotomy. Although the two sons feared their father, they also worshipped him and wanted to please him. Hernandez’s brother had also made allegations that Aaron was sexually molested when he was a child by a teenaged boy who forced Aaron to perform sexual acts when he was just six years old.

Many speculate that he never really got over the abuse. And that it might have led to the allegations of his sexual propensity toward men in his later years. There is speculation that the abuse could have caused significant internal conflict and shame within Aaron.

Questions of Aaron’s Sexuality

Since his arrest, many theories have arisen about his violent behavior. Many have speculated about what could have caused someone, who had it all, to throw it away. One theory is that Aaron was a homosexual in a professional sport where it was not acceptable. And therefore, he was forced to keep his feelings a secret. Many have come forward to testify that Aaron engaged in homosexual relationships throughout his young life.

People in Aaron’s life maintain that he was very fearful of what his father and society would think if they knew of his homosexuality. And it was that fear that might have drove his dual personality. If that were the case, hiding his sexuality probably came with a high degree of shame and guilt. And sometimes that can lead to self-loathing, which can make people act unlike they usually would.

Having a secret, like killing someone and keeping it from those in his life, might have been something that he was used to and came easily. Living a life marked by not being his genuine self, might have led him to an identity crisis that allowed him to disassociate with the parts of himself that he was shameful of. And it also might have triggered the retaliation of shooting the two men in a drive-by.

His Talent and Hard Work Leads Him to the NFL

Aaron was an all-star on any team he was a part of. There was no denying that his energy and spirit on the playing field was something that shined. That was why people were so confused when, in the 2010 draft, he was poised to be picked in the first or second round, but remained sitting until the fourth round.

Although not many talked about it at the time, after the events that led to his incarceration and eventual suicide, his delay in being drafted was finally understood. Aaron’s past, his behavior, and his criminal acts off of the field made him a pariah to many professional teams. Even if they appreciated his talent, they knew it would take a whole lot to capture his energy. And also to keep his behavioral problems in check. After examining the road leading to his death, it is easy to see that it probably was a full-time job. 

The New England Patriots were a tight-knit organization. They believed that his talent, along with mentors like Tim Tebow and Tom Brady, would be enough. So they overlooked his pre-score behavioral analysis. Hernandez was classified as “socially immature.” And when you combine his score with his ADHD diagnosis and criminal activity, not many teams wanted to take the chance. 

His Relationship With His Mother

Aaron admitted that he and his mother never had a true unconditional love and mutual trust. From an early age, he was resentful that his mother and father fought violently. After the death of his father, there were also allegations that his mother might have had a long-standing affair with the man she eventually married. Extramarital relations are difficult for children, well, after they are no longer children. And they can tear at the relationship between parent and child. When his father died, he left his childhood home and lost what little stability it provided him.

His Medical Diagnosis – CTE

After Aaron took his life, he donated his brain to research. Upon examination, doctors found that he had sustained extreme damage due to concussions on the field. Traumatic brain injuries suffered by sports professionals are becoming a severe concern in the world of sports.

The type of brain injury sustained through concussion can lower a player’s impulse control. And it can also make them more prone to violence. When you combine his ADHD diagnosis with the injuries that he sustained, it might have been the perfect recipe for his criminal behavior. And although not the whole reason he killed, it could have been the catalyst.

When examined, medical professionals maintained that the level of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy experienced by Hernandez was the worst that they have ever seen in a player so young. And the brain injuries could have certainly altered both his already limited impulse control, poor decision-making, and violent behavior.

Aaron’s Need to Be Admired Often led to Poor Decision-Making

Aaron lived a lifetime of being more of a follower than a leader. He was easily manipulated and had an extreme need to please others in his life. That could have been a sign of low-self esteem and self-loathing that often adds additional stress to a person’s psyche.

So when he was confronted by Odin Lloyd, or threatened by him, it could have set off his violent behavior. Being challenged was not something that Aaron liked or was used to. His low self-esteem could have pushed him to react the way that he did. Hernandez also wanted his friends to both fear and admire him. Therefore, if his ego was challenged, he might have felt the need to react with force.

Many insist that returning close to his childhood home was one of the worst moves he made in his adult life. His group of friends were said to be a bad influence on him. And his need to please and be looked up to might have pushed him to act in more severe ways than he normally would. Those in his life saw a decline in his behavior when he was influenced by his childhood friends. So perhaps if he had not returned to a bad home-life situation, he would not have engaged in such violent behavior.

So was it one Thing or a Combination of Many?

There is no doubt that Aaron Hernandez grew up in an abusive home. Watching his father’s explosive and abusive behavior both toward his mother, himself, and his brother was the type of role modeling that made it acceptable to engage in violent explosive behavior with low impulse control. When you combine his childhood experiences along with a conditional loving relationship with his mother, that was anything but stable, it might have been a perfect storm for his actions later on. And his ADHD put him at high risk for impulsivity and criminal activity. 

The insult that he took off of the field was only exasperated by the traumatic brain injuries that he likely sustained throughout his career. Prefrontal lobe damage is associated with violent behavior and a propensity for impulsive acts, which might also have been a catalyst for his altercation and murderous acts.

If the allegations are true and he had homosexual tendencies that were kept hidden, it might have led to an inability to define who he was both sexually and, in general. And that identity crisis might have made it easier for him to keep secrets without showing any signs to those around him. If you live a lifetime, hiding who you are, then keeping your other behaviors from being found is probably not very difficult.

Without help, it is Difficult to Outrun Demons

Many people grow up in abusive homes, have horrible childhoods, struggle with their sexual identity, and have the loss of a loved one. But for Aaron Hernandez, it would appear that the deck was heavily stacked against him from the start. Without a strong maternal relationship, the right help for his ADHD and impulsivity, and feeling as if he had someone to talk to about his internal sexual identity crisis, it was all just too much for him.

When people suffer from mental illness and don’t get the help that they need, it can become difficult for them to navigate their life circumstances. And although he appeared to have it all, a booming career, a multi-million dollar contract, and all the fame anyone could ask for, it was not enough for him to overcome his demons. 

Things Might Have Turned out Differently

There is still a lot of controversy surrounding his suicide and conspiracy theories about why he did it. Some believe he did it so his daughter would live comfortably receiving the money paid out on his contract. But the truth is that no matter what his intentions were, he was desperate enough to take his own life, which could also stem from his many mental hardships.

If the people in Aaron’s life had gotten him the help that he needed, his tragic story might have been a triumphant one. That gives us all pause to consider if anyone in our own lives is struggling with mental health challenges and not getting the help that they need. Confronting an issue head-on is a lot easier than waiting on the sidelines for someone to crack. If you or someone you love is going through a rough time, don’t wait. Get them the help they need by contacting Chat Owl today.