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Why do we care so much about Aaron Hernandez? Trying to make sense of it all

Aaron Hernandez’s suicide has brought an end to the saga of one of New England sports’ all time greatest “what if” players. With passing time, it looked like Aaron Hernandez would, for lack of a better term, “rot in prison” as he faded from any sort of significant notoriety. But with his recent actions and the reaction to them, it became clear that all of New England still cares about or has an interest in this man. Why?

After an arrest and life sentence, why couldn’t we just detach ourselves? Why couldn’t we just say goodbye? Apparently, a Pro Bowl murderer is like an old girlfriend; no matter how long it’s been and how bad she treated you, if she calls you, you can’t help but pick up.

The Patriots distanced themselves from Hernandez — largely dumping him early on in the murder investigations. But New Englanders themselves still seem to feel “weird” about Hernandez. Now, we want answers about his death. What was written on the reported suicide notes that he left?

Aaron Hernandez was a Whitey Bulger-like character for Bostonians: someone who gave us some good, did a lot of bad and was sentenced to a life in prison. We’d get occasional updates a couple times a year on something that had transpired in one of his murder cases, but other than that, out of sight out of mind.

Hernandez and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski were practically reinventing the game when Hernandez’s arrest occurred. Football had never seen a team utilize the tight end position or a two-tight-end set like the Patriots did from 2010-2012. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez could run, catch and block and were dominant physical presences. Hernandez’s performance as tight end number two is one that Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick still hasn’t been able to replace.

Aaron Hernandez didn’t suffer a career-ending injury (Tony Conigliaro) or not get a chance to showcase his talents (Len Bias). We got a solid sample size from Hernandez (almost 2,000 receiving yards in three seasons). We knew what we had and we were excited about it. But he was forced out of the league because of his off-the-field actions. Hernandez is the perfect example of someone who appears to have had it all and then threw it away.

I think the thing that gets us is the potential. It’s a sad story because of the lost lives, the families affected and Hernandez’s now fatherless daughter. But it’s also the sad story of a talented young man with endless potential throwing it all away because of gang commitments and other complications. We just can’t make sense of it. That any player on any of our teams could be arrested for something at any moment strikes fear in the sports fan part of our heart.  

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