Aaron Hernandez's story caught a lot of people off guard when he first ran afoul of the law, and each passing day seems to bring a crazier story about the former tight end to light. When a talented person you worked alongside is living a double life, it's hard to process for colleagues and loved ones alike.
Hernandez came to the Patriots with a little baggage—he failed multiple drug tests in college—but the media covering him mostly saw him as a talented, personable enough young man. In retrospect, however, there were plenty of warning signs for reporters to go off of when he was playing for the Pats.
Ian Rapoport, who covered Hernandez for the Boston Herald and now works for NFL Network, recalled a story about one of his first interactions with Hernandez as a Patriot this week. He told MMQB this chilling anecdote about a conversation that jumps out as a red flag in hindsight:
There weren’t a lot of guys that were just hanging out in the locker room, especially during those years, so we would hang out and we would talk. When we first exchanged numbers, he called me over and said, "Hey I just want you to know, you’re my guy. If you need anything let me know, I will help you out if I can. But I just want you to know, if you f--- me over, I’ll kill you."
I sort of laughed a little bit, and I said, "Don’t worry, I got you, I’ll take care of you." It was me and this other reporter from CBS Sports, William Bendetson, and he was standing there and had listened and we kind of turned to each other and both laughed. And then the first text I got after it became clear that Hernandez was the suspect in the murder investigation was from William Bendetson, who was like, Hey, remember that day in the locker room?
On the surface, this is the sort of banter you might have heard a few times in a locker room or amongst close friends. The vast majority of people who say they're going to harm you aren't actually going to follow through with it, they're just using hyperbole for effect. So when Rapoport heard this the first time, it probably barely registered as a concern.
Knowing what we know now, the conversation with Rapoport reads like a warning that Hernandez was not as stable as he might have appeared to his teammates and the people covering him. Working with people every day changes your perspective on a person, and it's hard to judge people objectively when you're working alongside them every day.
Hernandez's story shouldn't make you feel like you have to constantly second-guess the things colleagues say to you, and the worst thing most people were aware of at the time were failed drug tests for smoking weed, which is not exactly uncommon among college students. But Hernandez's fall from grace and death are at the very least a reminder of just how little we may know about the men and women we work alongside.