The rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez: How he went from a rising star to a convicted murderer and the newest face of football’s concussion crisis

Former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in his jail cell in April and on Thursday, his attorney announced that Hernandez’s brain was found to be suffering from an advanced stage of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease that has been linked to concussions.

Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of semiprofessional football player Odin Lloyd, 27, whom Hernandez knew socially.

Hernandez’s life was a tragic roller coaster that began with the death of his father, saw him rise to stardom in both college and the NFL, and then fell apart when he was charged in the deaths of three people before taking his own life.

Below is a look at how Hernandez went from football star to convicted murderer and the newest face of football’s concussion crisis.


Hernandez grew up in a tough area of Bristol, Connecticut, and his dad died when Hernandez was 16 years old.

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YouTube/Scout

Hernandez spoke about the death of his father while in college: “It was more like a shock. Everyone was close to my father, but I was the closest. I was with him more than my friends. When that happened, who do I talk to, who do I hang with? It was tough.”

Source: USA Today


Hernandez was the No. 1 tight end recruit in the country as a sophomore and originally committed to play football at the University of Connecticut, where his father had played and where his brother D.J. was the starting quarterback at the time. However, after the death of his father his junior year, Hernandez decided to attend the University of Florida.


Hernandez reportedly started hanging out with a crew of small-time criminals after the death of his father, a group that included the other two people who were allegedly with Hernandez on the night Odin Lloyd was murdered.

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YouTube/SportzEdge.com

Source: Rolling Stone


Hernandez’s mother Terri on how the death of his father impacted Hernandez: “It was a rough process, and I didn’t know what to do for him. He would rebel. It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry. He wasn’t the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger.”

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YouTube/SportsEdge

Source: USA Today


Hernandez played three seasons at Florida and won a national championship in 2008.

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Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Hernandez’s mother said in 2009 that the Gators football team became Hernandez’s family and head coach Urban Meyer, “became his father more or less.”

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Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Source: USA Today


At the University of Florida, Tim Tebow was Hernandez’s “life instructor.”

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Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Read more: “Tim Tebow Was Aaron Hernandez’s ‘Life Instructor’ In College


Hernandez and Meyer were so close that the pair would read the Bible together every morning at 7:30 in Meyer’s office.

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Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Source: USA Today


Hernandez’s violent history can be traced back to the university, where Tebow once tried to break up a fight between Hernandez and a bouncer. That bouncer reportedly suffered a ruptured eardrum during the fight.

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Read more: “Tim Tebow Once Tried To Break Up A Bar Fight Between Aaron Hernandez And A Bouncer


After his junior year, Hernandez was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round.

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NFL via Getty Image

He spent three seasons with the Patriots, catching 18 touchdown passes and teaming up with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to form a nearly unstoppable offense.

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Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Hernandez even caught a touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLVI, a 21-17 loss to the New York Giants.


A family friend told Rolling Stone that Hernandez was addicted to angel dust for more than a year before the murder of Lloyd, and was growing increasingly paranoid, even carrying a rifle in his gym bag.

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Elsa/Getty Images

Source: Rolling Stone


Hernandez was said to be trying to cut ties with the group of criminals from his childhood. He even reportedly told Patriots head coach Bill Belichick that he was worried his friends would try to kill him.

Source: Rolling Stone


Hernandez also smoked marijuana, reports said. There were even reports before his most recent murder trial that his defense team might argue that smoking a lot of weed made Hernandez violent.

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Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Source: New York Post


Hernandez was charged with murder in the death of Lloyd in June of 2013. Police seemed to surprise a shirtless Hernandez at his front door.

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RideThePine.com


Hernandez’ fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, testified for the prosecution after receiving immunity. She testified she had seen a gun in the house similar to the one used in the murder, but also said she couldn’t remember many of the details of the time around the shooting.

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CJ Gunther/Pool/Reuters

Read more: “Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee testified at his trial – and may have made things worse for him


She was also accused of hiding evidence, with investigators alleging that she took a box out of Hernandez’s basement, left the house with it, and returned later without it.

Read more: “Witness describes the ‘secretive’ behavior of Aaron Hernandez’ fiancée – who investigators believe helped hide evidence


The evidence used against Hernandez included text messages between Hernandez and Lloyd on the night of the murder that suggested they were together and text messages between Lloyd and his sister saying he was with somebody he referred to as “NFL.”

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Screenshot from court

Read more: “How prosecutors proved former NFL player Aaron Hernandez guilty of murder


In addition, a shell casing found in a rented car matched shell casings found near Lloyd’s body. The casing also had DNA on it matching Hernandez’ DNA.

Read more: “How prosecutors proved former NFL player Aaron Hernandez guilty of murder


Hernandez was also seen on his own surveillance video carrying something that looked like a gun shortly after the time of the murder. Police also reported that Hernandez destroyed his security system but did not remove the tape.

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Screenshot via court

Read more: “Police: Patriots Tight End Destroyed His Home Security System And Cell Phone After Acquaintance Was Murdered


The trial was nearly declared a mistrial when two jurors reported that they had been followed by a local television station’s truck.

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ESPN

Read more: “The murder trial against ex-NFL player Aaron Hernandez was almost a mistrial


In April of 2015, Hernandez was found guilty of the murder of Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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REUTERS/Mike George

Read more: “Aaron Hernandez guilty of first-degree murder, sentenced to life in prison


After the trial, jurors said they were shocked when a defense attorney admitted Hernandez was at the scene of Lloyd’s murder. The attorney argued that Hernandez had only witnessed the murder and had not committed it.

Read more: “Aaron Hernandez’s defense admitted something that shocked the jury


Hernandez had spent the last 15 months on trial for the murders of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu. Prosecutors alleged that Hernandez had felt disrespected over a spilled drink in a night club and later shot the two men at a red light.

Read more: “Witness: Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez shot at men after spilled drink in club


During the double-murder trial, prosecutors argued that a tattoo of a gun on Hernandez matched the gun used in the killings.

Source: New York Post


In college, Hernandez said in an interview that the tattoos on his arms tell his life story, noting that on his right arm, “everything is good,” and that the left arm includes things such as “the pain we all go through.”

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Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Source: USA Today


Just five days before his death, Hernandez was acquitted of the double-murder and other charges in the case. There was speculation that this would help an appeal in the Lloyd murder, because covering up the earlier murders was considered a motive in the Lloyd case.

Read more: “Ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez acquitted in 2012 double slaying


Hernandez left behind another victim, his 4-year-old daughter. After being acquitted in the double-murder case, he blew her a kiss.


After Hernandez’s death, his brain was donated to the CTE Center at Boston University, where they look for signs of the disease linked to brain trauma and concussions.


Hernandez’s brain was found to have stage 3 CTE (on a scale of 1-4). According to his attorney, they were told “it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age.” The family has filed a lawsuit against the NFL.

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Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

While most legal experts don’t think the family will win the case, it is still problematic for the NFL as Hernandez was just 27 years old, had played just three years in the NFL, and expressed extreme examples of CTE symptoms, which include violent behavior and suicidal thoughts.

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Elsa/Getty Images

For better or worse, this is the newest face of football’s concussion crisis.