Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Killer Inside: Does Netflix’s Aaron Hernandez Documentary Really Explain The Mind Behind The Murders?

Posted on 12 February 2020 by Benjamin Chapal

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Netflix is the latest media company to take the plunge into the true crime story of American Football star and ex New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. The documentary  dropped on the platform on January 15, 2020, and will now bring the compelling story to a global audience.

*Mild Spoilers Ahead*

In America, the tale of Hernandez is well known. After scoring a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, Hernandez’s life quickly spiraled into a mess of murders and court trials. 

In 2017, it ended in tragedy, as he was found dead in his jail cell. He had taken his own life only five short years after that famous touchdown.

Killer Inside runs as a docuseries, and the three episodes are a rollercoaster that is tough to stop once started, perfect for the binge lovers out there. 

Having said that, the series has some serious flaws in its story-telling, and oversimplifies Hernandez in many instances. His confused sexuality is used by the showrunners as a way to try and explain his troubles when in reality, there are many factors at play. He was a very complex figure.

Hernandez’s life was a true Shakespearean tragedy. Like Hamlet or Romeo, he had an incredible rise from a young age. He impressed the American footballing world with his incredible performances as a high school player in Connecticut, at the University of Florida, and finally in the NFL with the New England Patriots. 

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It was quickly apparent that no stage was going to be too big for Hernandez. Unfortunately, like many of the classic tragic heroes, Hernandez also had a fatal flaw. He couldn’t keep himself out of trouble, and was frequently accused of erratic and violent outbursts. 

Keep in mind, this was a man that allegedly committed a double homicide after getting a drink spilled on him in a Boston bar. Wild right? His acts of violence were so unexplainable, it has become an obsession for us to understand the inner workings of his mind.

The series attempts to do just this, hence the title. Unfortunately, it is impossible to understand the mind of a dead man, and the show is only able to infer his motives based on his relationships with the people around him. 

Much of the backlash surrounding the series has to do with the the questions around Hernandez’s sexuality. This part of his life is explored in greater depth than ever before.

As pointed out by the documentary, Hernandez was originally outed on a WEEI radio show. Boston reporter, Michele McPhee hinted at his sexuality while talking to the show’s hosts, Gerry Callahan and Kirk Minihane. The exchange was crudely homophobic, and was speculated in the docuseries as being a possible motive for Hernandez’s impending suicide.

The exchange went as such:

Mcphee: “How come you guys never tried to get his boyfriend? He has this lover and that was one of the motives.”

Callahan or Minihane: “Michele has the real motive.”

McPhee: “Let’s just say that Aaron Hernandez was a former tight end before he was kicked out by the Patriots.”

Callahan and Minihane: “On and off the field as well. Then he became a wide receiver.”

This interview was one of the first times speculation of Hernandez’s sexuality made it into the public eye. He was found dead shortly after the radio interview. Netflix infers this as a contributor to his suicide and paints him as a confused, closeted gay man who was desperately scared to reveal his true identity to the world.

I’m not here to dispute whether Hernandez was homosexual , but the series using his sexuality to explain some of his actions seems like an oversimplification of what was a very complex figure. In reality, we will never know what his mental state was like, or what internal demons led Hernandez to his tragic end.

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One of the primary sources that the series used to describe the development of Hernandez’s homosexual (or bisexual) identity, was alleged high school friend/ secret lover Dennis Sansoucie. 

The relationship with Sansoucie implies that Hernandez’s relationship with Shayanna Jenkins, was a ‘beard’ for his true sexual identity. Jenkins was the longtime girlfriend-turned fiancee of Aaron’s from highschool, and a ‘beard’, is a term describing a relationship with someone that is intended to hide the person’s true sexual orientation.

Here the docuseries muddies the waters, questioning the legitimacy of his relationship with his fiancee. In an emotional interview with ABC on Goodmorning America, Jenkins contemplates the idea of Hernandez being gay

“You can’t describe someone’s sexuality without them being here.” 

“Although I have a child with Aaron, I still can’t tell you how he was feeling inside. No one can.”

The point is, the broad digging into Aaron’s sexuality did nothing to answer the question why. It also wasn’t new information. That is not to say that it doesn’t play a role in his story, but inferring that his sexual identity led to frustration/ violence and was a possible cause of death seems unfair. 

Without Aaron here to enlighten us, there is no way to understand the acts of violence that plagued his life. But you can use his story to highlight the societal problems that Hernandez had to deal with. 

The dangers of head injuries. The symptoms of CTE. The issues surrounding American football and drug abuse, especially opioid abuse. The lack of initiative on the behalf of the NFL to take a stand on any of these issues.

All of these examples were largely summarized or completely ignored by the Netflix docuseries. 

If you finished the Netflix series wanting more, I suggest you check out the Boston Globe’s podcast series, Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc. It explores some of the above controversies, and would be a good supplement to the Netflix version.