Sport: Football (NFL)
Position: Tight end
Career: 2010-12 (3 seasons)
Teams: New England Patriots
Stats: 38 G, 175 REC, 1,956 YDS, 18 TD
Words to remember: "He changed my life. Now I’m able to basically have a good chance to be set for life, and have a good life. I have a daughter on the way, I have a family that I love. It’s just knowing that they’re going to be OK. Because I was happy playing for my $250,000, $400,000 (salary). Knowing that my kids and my family will be able to have a good life, go to college, it’s just an honor that he did that for me. He gave me this opportunity. The $50,000 to help his foundation, obviously, is basically like saying, 'Thank you,' and it means a lot to me. I just feel a lot of respect and I owe it back to him. Not only is it $50,000, cause that’s not really, that’s just the money that really doesn’t mean much, with the amount given, it’s more, I have a lot more to give back, and all I can do is play my heart out for them, make the right decisions, and live life as a Patriot. I called [my family] and told them obviously what the contract was, and the basics about it. They were all crying. I was crying right with them. This is probably one of the best days of my life. I’ll remember this day forever. I just hope I keep going, doing the right things, making the right decisions so I can have a good life, and be there to live a good life with my family." — Aaron Hernandez, in August 2012, on giving $50,000 to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund, after signing a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the New England Patriots
"One of the touching moments since I've known the team — knowing that this is our charitable gala tonight — Aaron came into my office, a little teary-eyed and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund. I said, 'Aaron, you don't have to do this, you've already got your contract.' And he said, 'No, it makes me feel good, and I want to do it.' That made me feel good because part of the thing that we learned early on is that we have a lot of young men who come into this business, and they come from humble financial homes, and part of what we try to do is make them understand that there is a psychic income involved in giving back both your time and your financial resources, if you can do that. And I sensed that he was touched in doing that. We didn't request it. It's something that he decided. And to flip the switch from living modestly to all of the sudden having a lot of income, I think we have to work real hard to help our young men adjust to that. … I just think he’s a super player, and really a first-class guy." — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Aaron Hernandez’s charitable donation
Bottom line: We’ll never know how good Aaron Hernandez could have been — on or off the football field. Hernandez started the 2010 season as the youngest player on any active roster in the NFL at 21. He was convicted in 2015 of killing semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. Two years later, the 27-year-old Hernandez killed himself in his prison cell days after being acquitted of most charges in a separate double-murder case.
Something brought out the worst in Hernandez. A 2020 Netflix documentary called "Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez" posed a theory that revolved around Hernandez’s drug use, sexuality and CTE. Former Patriots teammate Devin McCourty "wasn’t a fan" of the premise, which left more questions than answers.
We’ll never really know why Hernandez threw his whole life away. All we know is that it’s a tragic case of wasted talent.