Netflix’s ‘Killer Inside’ Reveals Secret Life of Ex-NFL Star-Turned-Murderer Aaron Hernandez
The docuseries, premiering Jan. 15, alleges that the former New England Patriots star was gay, that he suffered from crippling CTE, and that the NFL was complicit in his crimes.
Though American sports history is littered with stories of athlete abuse and murder (we’re looking at you, O.J. Simpson), perhaps no pro has ever fallen as far, or in as stunning a manner, as Aaron Hernandez. In 2015, the star New England Patriots tight end was convicted of murdering Odin Lloyd—the boyfriend of Hernandez’s fiancée (and future wife/mother of his child) Shayanna Jenkins’ sister—in an industrial park near his opulent North Attleboro, Massachusetts, home. It was a cold-blooded execution that turned Hernandez into a national villain, and his reputation wasn’t aided by the fact that he was subsequently charged (if eventually acquitted) of a separate 2012 Boston double homicide, not to mention accused of various other altercations, including the near-fatal 2013 shooting of his unsavory friend Alexander Bradley.
His was a life of paroxysmal violence, and Netflix’s Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez contends that the gridiron great’s demise was the result of irreconcilable dualities within—as well as an NFL culture that conspired to turn a volatile figure into a murderous sociopath.
Director Geno McDermott’s three-part docuseries (premiering Jan. 15) is an expansion of his 2018 documentary My Perfect World: The Aaron Hernandez Story, covering a lot of the same ground but extending its purview to feature a more damning indictment of a Hernandez home life, and NFL environment, that compelled the athlete to hide what he allegedly was: gay. That revelation first publicly materialized during Hernandez’s trial over the 2012 slaying of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, two men Hernandez was accused of shooting to death at a stoplight (while Bradley was driving) because of an earlier spilled-drink incident at a nightclub.
Occurring one month before Hernandez signed a $40 million contract extension with the Patriots, it was as senseless as killings get. And though Hernandez ultimately beat the rap thanks to celebrity lawyer Jose Baez—who created reasonable doubt that Bradley might have been the triggerman, this despite Hernandez having direct ties to the vehicle and murder weapon—the state’s view that Hernandez’s supposedly closeted life contributed to his lethal fury is central to McDermott’s show, given that it speaks directly to the double lives the killer had been living since childhood.
With revelatory interviews from his high school quarterback and alleged secret lover Dennis SanSoucie, as well as commentary from former Patriots offensive tackle Ryan O’Callaghan (who spent his NFL tenure hiding his homosexuality), Killer Inside argues that Hernandez’s screwy psychological state was due to a domineering father who never would have accepted his son’s sexuality, and then—following his dad’s death—a football career that didn’t grant him the opportunity to be out and proud, but did afford him a means of masquerading as a super-aggro tough guy. In that regard, football was both the agent of Hernandez’s imprisonment and his apparent self-deception. It was also his way of escaping a messy domestic situation in Bristol, Connecticut, with mother Terri, who, following her husband’s death, shacked up with the partner of Hernandez’s beloved cousin, Tanya Singleton. And escape he did, for a time, shunning the northeast (and UConn, attended by his dad and brother DJ) for the University of Florida.
It was while playing for the Urban Meyer-coached Gators that Hernandez learned that football, and its attendant celebrity, made him above the law. After evading prosecution for beating up a bar manager who dared to demand that the kid pay his tab, Hernandez came to see himself as untouchable. When he was drafted by the Patriots—much lower than expected, thanks to immaturity and character concerns—he wound up right back in the company of the shady New England folks he least needed around him (many located at Tanya’s abode). Trouble ensued, first in Boston in 2012, and then in North Attleboro on June 17, 2013, with Lloyd, who was killed for reasons that, to this day, remain as baffling as Hernandez’s guilt (proven by an overwhelming amount of evidence) is incontrovertible.
Through a wealth of trial footage, archival news broadcasts, new interviews and prison phone conversations, Killer Inside persuasively contends that Hernandez was the byproduct of a perfect storm of negative developments: unstable home, adolescent family tragedy, sketchy friends, money and fame that spawned a sense of invincibility, and repressed homosexuality exacerbated by a professional milieu that demanded hyper-hetero machismo. As if that weren’t enough to make Hernandez a ticking time bomb, McDermott’s documentary further points the finger at the NFL by blaming the man’s crazed behavior on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the neurodegenerative disorder caused by repeated head trauma (especially concussions) that’s found in countless deceased football players. As a postmortem analysis of his brain indicated, Hernandez had the most severe case of CTE ever found in a 27-year-old, and it may have begun developing as early as his teens—thus lending credence to the idea that it had something to do with the escalation of his violent impulses.
Killer Inside is, on the one hand, an excoriation of a sport that eats up and spits out young men in the name of profit, destroying not only their bodies but their minds—both physically (via CTE) and psychologically (via homophobia, and the self-loathing it begets). Suffice it to say, Roger Goodell will not like McDermott’s conclusions about the role the NFL played in the downfall of Hernandez, whose purchase of a secret second apartment—where he could smoke weed (his favorite pastime) and shirk his duties as a partner, father, tight end, and adult—was facilitated by the Patriots.
That said, Hernandez was more than simply a cautionary tale about letting your kids strap on pads and tackle one another. Killer Inside is the portrait of a talented but damaged individual who, thanks to the lack of a proper support system, a simmering fury over familial losses, alleged shame over his carnal desires (and thus who he was), and brain injuries that caused him to lash out in extreme fashion, completely and utterly lost his way, in the process causing irreparable harm to countless individuals, none more so than the families of his wholly innocent victims. Considering that Hernandez took his life on April 19, 2017—two days after his alleged homosexuality became grist for the media mill—it’s as close as we’re likely to get inside the deceased’s hopelessly fractured mind.