What could Aaron Hernandez have been thinking when he hanged himself in a prison cell, as has been reported, shortly after he was found not guilty of a double murder and with a possible appeal coming on his earlier murder conviction?
There have been rumors and innuendo about what had changed in prison for Hernandez. His place among inmates reportedly wasn't the same, he wasn’t "The Man" any more. There were possible gang issues.
In other words, the respect he’d craved all his life — once while playing for the New England Patriots, and doubtlessly among others in prison — was disintegrating.
It’s impossible to know what mental and emotional demons push anyone to suicide, but here’s another factor that clearly was weighing upon Hernandez — his own humanity. Or, really, just being a dad.
Amid all the sad, gory details from his most recent trial, which ended last week, came a touching courtroom scene between Hernandez and his 4-year-old daughter, Avielle Janelle Hernandez.
Hernandez, heading into the courtroom on the second-to-last day of jury deliberations, appeared surprised when he saw his daughter about 25 feet away. That cocky, arrogant scowl he had worn so often during so many court appearance was gone.
He threw Avielle a kiss before sitting down at the defense table. Then he turned back several times, smiling, almost in disbelief that she was there, sitting on her mom's lap.
The big guy, with the menacing muscles and neck tattoos, was a dad.
Maybe it hit him then, not only what he’d done to at least one victim, but what all of it must mean for his daughter, the ultimate innocent figure in this whole tragic story.
This redwood of a man was cut down.
Hernandez last week was acquitted of charges that he murdered two men in a drive-by shooting outside a Boston nightclub in 2012. The jury found him not guilty on most counts — including murder and armed assault. He was found guilty of illegal possession of a firearm, which comes with a four- to five-year prison sentence.
Of course, Hernandez was already serving life for killing the boyfriend of his fiancee's sister. He was convicted in that first-degree murder two years ago this past week.
Avielle was just short of 8 months old when her dad went from millionaire football star to murderer. Imagine what the kids will say to her when she goes off to school.
Hernandez had weathered plenty of hits, from football and from the media. Appeal aside, he faced a lifetime of prison time for the brutality he’d inflicted upon others.
But beneath the tough exterior of a man who’d lived dual lives — as a protected sports star since middle school in New Britain, Connecticut, and as a murderous street kid — was some trace of humanity.
The world caught a glimpse in the courtroom the other day, where it must have occurred to Hernandez that he would never be a normal dad, and that all of these tribulations would take a toll upon his own daughter.
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of CNHI Sports Boston. You can email him at email@example.com.