Aaron Hernandez changed a lot of peoples’ lives when he took part in the murder of his former friend Odin Lloyd back in June 2013. He obviously changed his own life as he went from being an up-and-coming NFL star who looked like he was on the verge of turning into one of the best tight ends in the league to a convicted killer. He also changed the lives of those who loved Lloyd. And he even changed the life of his older brother D.J. Hernandez in a very significant way.
Back in 2013, D.J. was a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa with dreams of becoming a big-time college football coach one day. But after Hernandez was found guilty of killing Lloyd, D.J. changed his name to Jonathan, gave up his dreams of coaching in order to become a roofer in Texas, and tried to distance himself from the violent murder that changed the way people looked at him as a result of his close relationship with Aaron.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Rosenberg caught up with Jonathan this spring and asked him to tell his story. In the feature he put together, which was published on Thursday, Rosenberg was very careful to remind readers over and over and over again that Lloyd is the only real victim in the Aaron Hernandez saga. But he also put together a really interesting profile that both sheds light on D.J., er, Jonathan and Aaron’s upbringing and provides insight into what Jonathan has had to deal with on a personal level over the last three years.
In the SI piece, Jonathan talks at length about how he struggled to find a coaching job once his brother was accused of killing Lloyd. He also discusses how he didn’t always agree with some of the people Hernandez kept in his inner circle. According to Jonathan, Aaron started hanging around with the wrong crowd shortly after their father Dennis died in 2006. And Jonathan touches on how much their father’s death impacted Aaron, even though he tried not to show it.
"I saw a kid who was devastated," Jonathan says. "I think he was confused. He was lost. He cried, but [only] at moments. Crying is not always the answer, but being an emotional family, for him to put up a wall during the services…it was shocking to me. He was holding everything in."
Additionally, Jonathan reveals that he’s never asked Aaron whether or not he killed Lloyd, and he describes what it’s like to visit the former Patriots player at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Mass., where he's currently serving a life sentence. Rosenberg writes about one particular meeting the brothers had in May:
Rosenberg also lays out how Aaron passes the time behind bars:
Aaron has picked up chess in prison, and he tells his brother, "You’ve gotta start playing." He loves the mental challenge and, well, this feels weird considering how competitive they were as kids, but he doesn’t care if he loses. Jonathan gets it. He tells Aaron he just lost a golf match and didn’t really care, either; and speaking of golf, remember the time they played in the rain? Aaron swung, lost his grip and sent a club into the woods. For such a gifted athlete, Aaron really is a terrible golfer. Was. He was. He asks about their grandmother.
Aaron probably never recommended a book in his life before he ended up here, but incarceration has turned him into a reader. He has plowed through all the Harry Potter books. He loved The Secret, a self-help best seller by Rhonda Byrne. The author’s foreword begins: "A year ago, my life had collapsed around me. I’d worked myself into exhaustion, my father died suddenly and my relationships with my work colleagues and loved ones were in turmoil. Little did I know at the time, out of my greatest despair was to come the greatest gift."
It’s hard to feel too bad for Jonathan given everything the Lloyd family has been through, but the SI piece on his life—his new life—offers a unique perspective into just how much things have changed for him, even though he didn’t have anything to do with his brother’s crime. You can read it here.