Aaron Hernandez: An All-American Tragedy

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It has been recently reported that late pro football player Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy. His CTE was so bad that researchers who examined his brain were shocked…the 27-year-old former New England Patriots tight end had the brain trauma of a football player in his sixties.

Why is this important & why am I writing about it? Well, Hernandez had a history of violence and was convicted of killing someone…and earlier this year he committed suicide in prison after writing the word “Illuminati” on the wall of his jail cell with his blood alongside a eye-and-pyramid- symbol.

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The brain with advanced CTE literally shrinks.

It’s very likely that his severe CTE contributed to Hernandez’s overall violent behavior. I’m not saying he’s “off the hook” because of the CTE, and I’m not saying there weren’t other factors. But what is becoming more and more clear is that repeated head trauma he experienced while being a pro football player contributed to his mental deterioration. And he is far from the only one; CTE has been found in the brains of over 100 former NFL players, some of whom had committed suicide.

chris-benoit.jpgNor is CTE only associated with football—I can point to the case of pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who in 2007 suddenly snapped and killed his entire family before committing suicide himself. When they did the post-mortem on Benoit, they found that his brain was so severely damaged that it “resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.”

Of course, a big part of the job being a pro wrestler is to get dropped on your head, bashed in the head, etc.—even with the “fake” aspect of the matches, there is still plenty of damage done.

How many people in these high-impact sports have flipped out and done violence and have had undiagnosed CTE. (even possibly O.J. Simpson, if you think about it)? I mean, that’s the big scandal and “conspiracy” (if you will) going through pro sports right now. And while I don’t think it’s literally what Hernandez meant when he scrawled “Illuminati” on the wall in his own blood like a character from the movie IT, I can certainly see the metaphor.

The Buzzfeed article “The Real Tragedy Of The Aaron Hernandez Story”—which came out before these new CTE revelations—sums it up best to me:

By the time he was convicted, Hernandez was no longer allowed to signify anything beyond himself; he became a sociopath or “thug” — as online comments describe him — who must take responsibility for his own actions. But his trajectory cannot be divorced from the institutions that shaped him, from his family to his football teams, and the values they instilled in him. Another way to understand this story is that he made sense of those values in an ultimately self-destructive — but not necessarily irrational — way, which culminated in what may have been a final attempt at seizing some control: his death by his own hands.

Anyway, it’s a sad story, and reminds me of themes I brought up in my first “The New Fatalism” post (where the Hernandez suicide was mentioned). There are these “silent killers” going on in the lives of some men (which can also horribly impact the lives of others around them), these things that are not being adequately addressed. They are vital pieces of a puzzle that we need to get the full picture & it’s only now really coming to light. We need to understand how these things happened.

More to read about on Butterfly Language:
The New Fatalism
The New Fatalism, Part Two
The New Fatalism, Part 3