On Wednesday, April 19, 2017, Aaron Hernandez was found hanging from a bed sheet in his prison cell, a death that was later ruled a suicide. A day later, Hernandez’s lawyer announced the former tight end’s brain would be donated to Boston University to study for the potential of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Thursday, the results were released. Boston University’s research found that Hernandez had Stage 3 (out of 4) CTE with “early brain atrophy” and “large perforations” in a central membrane. (Photos of Hernandez’s brain can be seen here.) Hernandez’s lawyer said that his family plans to sue the NFL and the Patriots for negligence on behalf of Hernandez’s daughter.
These findings only add another complicating layer to a complex story, throwing the greatest issue ever facing the country’s most popular sport on top of a murder (or murders) followed by a suicide.
We all figured this day would come based on what we’re learning about football players’ brains. We understand that—despite the admitted biases in these studies (including the most recent one that found CTE in 110 out of 111 examined brains)—brown spots and holes consistent with CTE have been found more and more frequently on the brains of many deceased football players. So, the diagnosis of CTE for Hernandez may not be that surprising for many. The question was how bad would it be?
The Goldwater rule was adopted by the American Psychiatric Association, preventing a doctor from giving a professional opinion on a public figure he or she has not personally evaluated. It would be unwise for anyone—doctors or NFL fans—to draw conclusions on Hernandez’ mental state. But there are still plenty of questions left to be answered.
Was CTE a factor (but certainly not an excuse) in Hernandez’s decision to kill Odin Lloyd, as a jury found (though later the conviction was vacated after Hernandez killed himself while on appeal)? Did it lead to Hernandez taking his own life five days after beating a double homicide case? Are those brown spots and perforations in his brain signs of every single hit he took from peewee to his final NFL tackle by Bernard Pollard in the 2012 AFC Championship Game?
Perhaps his murderous path started with the death of Hernandez’s father when he was teenager. What of the drugs he used throughout college and into his professional career? He did hang out with unsavory folks for much of his adult life that served as a gateway to evil. Was he loved enough as a child? Maybe people are predestined to be bad, and no matter what—drugs or death or CTE—this cosmic universe couldn’t stop Hernandez from killing and killing himself.
The findings announced Thursday will launch another chapter in this sad saga that has left Avielle without a father and Shayanna without a husband. But Olivia Thibou doesn’t have her brother, Odin Lloyd, anymore. Will she or the rest of the family care that some doctors in Boston found brown dots on a brain scan?
Probably not, just like it probably won’t matter to you or me on Sunday as we watch football for 15 straight hours.