Bristol | 2
Listen to note this episode contains some adult language in themes. Before Aaron Hernandez became a star in the NFL before he was on trial for murder. He was a kid growing up in Bristol, Connecticut, Jeff Morgan coached, his high school football team. He was wide receiver at that time his first year, you know, he was unbelievably fast and the body on him. It was almost like had the body of a senior. He really wasn't a freshman. Morgan was an assistant coach at Bristol central during Aaron Hernandez, freshman and sophomore seasons, and he was a self-described disciplinarian. And my flat fee was though swearing on a field in Hernandez, a sophomore year. He broke that rule. And like I said, that was a no, no, in my book on the field. So I told him immediately won't practices over me on the hill. All the players knew what that meant. The hill was next to the school be ordered to run that bluff was a pretty typical punishment. And when practice was over all the other players went in. And they were laughing at him and he took off his helmet and the shoulder pads, and he got on his knees and he said, please coach don't make me run. That's when Morgan pulled out his cell phone. I said, you don't start running. I'm calling your father. So then he took off up the hill. To coach it showed respect, Hernandez, father seems strict. Well, I believe is father was hard on him because he wanted him and his brother tech sellin sports. He stayed on him as far as his school work because he wanted him to have good grades, Aaron respected his father. But there were warning signs that this was something altogether more serious. I know one time he went to a senior dance as a freshman, and I guess he was drinking before he went to the dance and they throw them out of the dance at the school. And then the next time we saw him ill like that. I guess his father did discipline him some more than some. He had a black eye. I'm assuming that's where that came from in a call from jail later in life, Aaron Hernandez remembered his volatile home, grew up in a household full of fucking arguing plenty of light or that. Hernandez home, violent, physical abuse was a frightening fact of life. From the Boston Globe in wonder, I'm Bob holder in this gladiator, investigative series about Aaron Hernandez and football Inc. This is episode to Ryssdal. Bristol, Connecticut, just two hours. Crystal, Connecticut is a former industrial city in the middle of the state, not far from Hartford. It's now a middle class suburb with a rich sports history, Babe, Ruth and such page played there, and it's home to the world headquarters of ESPN. It's also where Aaron Hernandez was born and grew up my spotlight colleague, Beth Healy picks up the story. Jonathan Hernandez says his parents always wanted him in Aaron to be a part of Bristol's sports history. Aaron's older brother and his only sibling. Jonathan has a book coming out. It's called the truth about Aaron any shares for the first time, new details about what it was like growing up in their family. My mom. If it's not for sports, you're to be going to that community. College football was a ticket to something bigger. Better than that. And you look at options at that age, you're committed what your parents are into. In many ways. Jonathan and Aaron looked up to their father. Dennis, Dennis Hernandez was a star athlete at Bristol, central high school in the nineteen seventies the same school. Jonathan Aaron would go on to attend. Many people still new dentist by the nickname he earned in highschool. They called him the king. Dennis had grown up in a working class family with Puerto Rican roots and earned a scholarship to play football at the university of Connecticut. It was supposed to be a way to a better life, but Dennis Hernandez did not finish college in nineteen seventy seven. One of his football friends broken a house, gut caught and his accomplice ended up shooting a police officer while Dennis was not involved in the burglary or the shooting. He later admitted that he had tried to help the shooter flee the scene. He was never charged with anything, but he dropped out of Yukon. Then this went back to Bristol and became known around the city. For his charisma, the king was charming generous, gregarious people said, fatherhood, made him a better man. He settled into domestic life in a small ranch style house on a tree lined street with his wife. Terri, a school secretary Dennis became a janitor at the other high school in town, but he still lived on the edge. He would stay out late drinking with friends. When Aaron was three, Dennis was arrested for legendary trying to buy cocaine from an undercover officer. Jonathan Hernandez says his father instilled in the boys, a love of sports, and a lot of fear play in the little Fisher Price basketball and thinking of the little, you know, makeshift. Who my dad made with, you know, yarn in a paper bag from stop and shop playing in the three. In one hockey, you know, the three in one set flip it over. It's an ice hockey thing, and. I have a one stick because we were getting chased by her father about to get abuse. It was Aaron and Jonathan together in the house throughout their lives. People would sometimes mistake them for each other when they were younger, Jonathan recalls Aaron with spike up his hair like a porcupine and you have these, like these doubles that just really. Look like how his cheeks for missing because his dimples were so caved in so far. It was just an e just really just brightened up my day. Johnson says, they argued and fought like brothers do, but they loved each other and they stuck together through their fathers beatings, violent, very. You know, people have had it harder than me here having conversation with you. But it got so bad that at one time, Jonathan then known as deejay says, he threatened to call the thirties. The phone wants to go to Seco and his response was pretty much call them, and he handed me the phone. He said. I'm going to be even harder you and your brother. And they're going to have to pull me off of you when they knocked on the door. Jonathan says he would stay out late shooting hopes in the dark to avoid coming home, and then you start thinking, what would happen if I got to be, I'm going home. I'm hiding under my bed. Her Siham hydro under my bed because what's about to happen? Left the two boys with a complicated relationship with their father, your school, and you see someone act up or someone to our this, they didn't get beat enough. They were veered him. But according to Jonathan, they were constantly afraid of what he'd do. He said his father's excessive drinking played a role in his violence. I love my dad, the death. I do, I do. I love him. With all my heart is just the reality of of the way we grew up. Their mom, Terry Valentine graduated two years after Dennis from Bristol central. She was a ton twirling major at a quote under her senior picture describes her as a sophisticated lady Terry married the king in August nineteen. Eighty six, three months after Jonathan was born, but the home wasn't a stable one. When Aaron was nine, his parents filed for bankruptcy protection, and then things got uglier as Aaron remembered later in one of the jail calls the spotlight team uncovered. Seventh grade when the feds in the house too. Bro to the of do homework. Yeah. Teri Hernandez was wanted in connection with an illegal sports betting ring. She helped run out of the family's home. It in the door and have poor DJ had to be brought home by Windsor in with all the FBI. There. Right after basketball, but she later cooperated with authorities and was never charged. This happened when Aaron was eleven years old and his brother was fourteen. It wasn't always clear that Aaron would play football when he was extremely young and he wasn't necessarily always interested in sports. At first. He didn't seem drawn to the game that meant so much to his father. In fact, he wanted to be a cheerleader. My cousins were cheerleaders, remember coming home and. My dad put an end to that really quick. It was not. Okay. And my dad made it clear that he had his definition of a man. They're pushed football, and he pushed Aaron and Jonathan to work hard and be better. He took them to gyms and chase them around to keep them running, made them run drills, Jonathan began playing organized football in a Bristol youth league. My brother's a little too young to participate, and he's on the side. You know, you go and get some twizzlers at the concession stand and run around other kids and enjoying life. At the time. It seemed like Jonathan was destined to continue as father football legacy, not his younger brother. Jonathan says he an Aaron or constantly being reminded by their father of what was okay. And what wasn't for a man to do, you know my father and I hate to say this. I do not meet offence to anyone, but you know, it was used all the time in our house. All the time standing talking acting looking. It was the furthest thing you my father wanted you to even look like in our household. That was not acceptable to him. Will you stand the way. Everything. How you place your hands. That looks feminine dozen. You can't stand that way. Jonathan says his dad's words had a profound effect on Aaron person who look up to your, your your, that's your father. That's your king. And Erin had something else weighing on him, something he apparently didn't disclose to his family or anyone else until years later, Aaron was sexually molested as a young boy according to one of his lawyers and his brother. When we asked Jonathan about it, he said he wasn't ready to offer details. He also said he has not confronted the alleged abuser. This is something that people go through and it's stuff you don't wish upon anyone. Changes the way. You know, you live, you think guarded you become. Something that you don't wish for anyone. Aaron kept these painful memories to himself for most of his life. And he said his mind to playing football. The thing that brought him accolades at school and gave him his best chance at impressing his father. Did you know that sixty six percent of men start losing their hair by age thirty five. That's not a fun statistic to think about, but it also doesn't have to be scary. 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It was that a football practice early in their lives that Aaron Hernandez? I met Denison Suzy. I'm new him from flag football since Souci would later be the quarterback on Aaron's high school team and right away. I was good on my team. He was good. The differences he continued to grow. It was already clear that Aaron had a lot of athletic talent. He was gifted at a very young age, but he really grew into a beast and like a year or two later, I don't think size is everything when it comes to play in football, that's Dennis's father, Tim, but I think it's helpful. You know, Aaron was just a head taller than every other kid is age a step or two quicker and faster, and just stronger and bigger than everyone. So when you're out there playing football, it's nice to be bigger than. Everybody else. Tim coached. One of the youth teams, I had plans to teach the kids, some of the basic things of football, but he quickly ran into interference from Aaron's dad. Remember he was also named Dennis and Dennis Moore felt like what we should do because they were so young was not focused on some of that stuff and maybe just do a run right run left and and really much more basic kind of thing will he was down at the store telling Marty, you know that I'm, I may not have the right ideas moving forward. And of course, like the young foolish person that I was at times. I got a little overly upset about that. I called him up and let him know in no uncertain terms that I didn't need help. Well, the conversation didn't go well, a few weeks later, Tim approach, Dennis about it, you know, it's time to kinda shake hands and bury the hatchet, right? Hey, no hard feelings and Dennis came walking off the field one day down at the. Midget football field there. And I had reached out my hand to shake with him and said, hey, no hard feelings. And I kinda just did one of these numbers where he didn't look at me didn't talk to me kind of kept walking and me being the person that I am that has to say the one thing that's just too much and I says to him, I says, dentist, why are you being such an asshole about this? Well, promptly turn around and clocked me one across the face broke my glasses off my face. The police came and no one was more surprised than Tim Sanssouci at how they handle the situation. I'm telling you that when police came, they wanted to put me in trouble. Listen, here's a guy who was involved in the murder of a plane Ville police officer, and for some reason is Teflon. Nothing sticks to him. Nothing ever did since Suzy sued Dennis Hernandez. A small claims judge ordered Dennis to pay him three hundred fifty dollars and the matter seemed resolved. Although since UCLA later crossed paths with Terry, what I remember her saying to me very clearly was a, why told Dennis he shouldn't hit you. I told them next time just spit at them. Tim would never see a dime of at three hundred fifty dollars. Still his son stayed friends with Aaron. They began spending a lot of time together. Aaron had slipped over at our house one time. I think when they were maybe I just wanna guess maybe about ten years old. You know, their friendship lasted right through high school where Dennis was the quarterback and Aaron the wide receiver and linebacker was the star mean him used the love doing Oklahoma's against each other because no one else could tackle him at times. Oklahoma's are brutal blocking and tackling drills where two players go head to head. I shouldn't say that we there was tons of guys that. Through their head around, but me and Erin, like the competitive virus. I gave him a little bit of not. Everyone could game day. There was really only one player he needed to get the ball to. It was very simple. Whatever the play was, you know, Aaron was read number one, whatever route it was. I think my favorite throw to him was a corner out by this time. Aaron was a lot bigger than other players his age. He towered over teammates, dressed in the schools, maroon and white football uniforms. Opponents had no answer for him. I mean, he played tight end fake a post, go out to a corner, which I think was a seven, and I just throw a nice lefty ball right over his shoulder and it was smooth. The friendship mental lot to Dennis. There's a photo of them in their tuxedos hanging out of their junior prom. Aaron was a guy who is just a really good friend to knew how to make people feel good. So I, yeah, throwing him the football made me feel good as an individual. Aaron was one of the most popular kids in school, good-looking outgoing, not given to bullying or too much bragging. He played varsity football as a freshman, and he excelled at basketball too. He also dated Shanna Jenkins the girl who would one day be his fiancee as the years went on, he grew well, past six feet tall with a sturdy built. He was a man among boys, but he always seemed to have a little kid inside of him. His brother Jonathan recalled when the Yukon football coach came to the house to recruit Jonathan. I remember Mambi a nervous wreck pace in CC is a smoker. So this you smoke and she was a nervous woman. Smoking cigarettes. So frustrating meaner and used to hide them in the Dan for the freezer. So she could find him. Jonathan remembers peaking outside of his window. He looked like a little turtle trying to come out of its shelf, and he was like, is it okay to come in this living room? Like like Harry get. It's. It wouldn't be long before. ED's was courting, Aaron too. Like many kids, his age, Aaron sometimes partied and drank. And he started smoking pot almost daily. Eric came over my house first day, junior year quarterback. He's he's, you know tied and he's making it big and we showed up. We walked up to a school from my house. I only lived like a couple of streets down and we were. We were baked. Errands, breakout junior year at Bristol, central, Dennis, San Souci and Aaron Hernandez. We're one of the most prolific passing tandems in the state. Nine touchdown completions in the first four games. We all knew all the friends knew that here was gonna make it because he deserved it. He worked very hard at it is a freaking hard worker at what he wanted any wanted to be good football. Smoked weed before practices. And Aaron later said, he smoked before games during their junior year, Dennis got caught and was kicked off the team for the rest of the season. Aaron never got disciplined. He kept playing, Aaron kept dominating on the football field and the basketball court. But his brother says, he didn't get the praise he most wanted from his father. Aaron would score touchdowns or forty points in a basketball game, and you win. And teammates coaches happy, but then you get home and it's a whole different story. In January of Aaron's junior year, that demanding environment would change very abruptly. His dad went in for what was said to be a routine hernia operation, but he never came home. He died days later from complications of the surgery at age. Forty nine. He was ruined. I mean, yeah, it ruined Aaron, it ruined room Wyndham that Stennis San Souci. You didn't know how to even act anymore. No one knew how to control them. Hundreds of people came to pay their respects at Aaron's dad's wake. There was a line around the block. Dennis Hernandez was buried in Saint Joseph cemetery in Bristol on January ninth, two thousand six. A high school principal remembers Jonathan crying, hard at the funeral, but he says, Aaron remained completely stone, faced holding in his emotions when Jonathan headed back to college, Erin, had a much smaller family to rely on little Joe with no father. My mom is just lost her husband and going through her own emotional crisis. Afterwards, things took a downward spiral for Aaron was in college and Aaron was home. He was there. My mother. And. Was a completely different dynamic. His mother began dating a family friend named Jeffrey Cummings. He was married to earns favorite cousin, Tanya, when Jeffrey Cummings moved into the Hernandez home, Terry gained a companion, but she virtually lost a son. Aaron started spending long stretches at his cousin Tania's house on lake avenue in Bristol by all accounts. It was a home with a lot of chaos, drinking drug dealers and drifters. It was also a place where Aaron came to feel loved and nurtured by Tanya. She was fifteen years older than Aaron and became a kind of mother figure to him. She loved earn. Earn tuna death. He loved her. She was a person earns life that he really looked up to. She was really there since really. She's the babysitter when we were in diapers. House happened to be across the street from where another big influence on errands. Life began the field where he first played tackle football. There are job sites that send you tons of the wrong resumes to sort through. That's not smart. The last thing you need when you're looking for a candidate for your job is more work on your plate, but you know what is mart going to ZipRecruiter dot com. Slash gladiator to find your next great hire. Instead unlike other job sites, ZipRecruiter doesn't wait for candidates to find you. ZipRecruiter finds them for you. It's powerful matching technology scans, thousands of resumes identifies people with the right skills, education and experience for your job and actively invites them to apply. So you get qualified candidates fast, no more sorting through the wrong resumes. No more waiting for the right candidates to apply. It's no wonder that ZipRecruiter is rated number one by employers in the US. By the way that number one rating comes from hiring sites on trust pilot with over one thousand reviews right now as a listener of this show, you can try ZipRecruiter for free at this. Exclusive web address, ZipRecruiter dot com. Slash gladiator that's ZipRecruiter dot com. Slash GLA d. i. AT oh, are ZipRecruiter dot com? Slash gladiator, ZipRecruiter, the smartest way to hire. Late in an October game in two thousand six. His final season at Bristol central Aaron Hernandez, and his teammates were playing Maloney highschool of Meriden. Aaron was knocked down by a blind side, hit to the head. He lay motionless before a hushed crowd, Laurie Bill. Monte, a registered nurse was watching from the stands I saw get hit. I saw him go down and he didn't get back up and Aaron would always get back up than the coaches went out on the field. How many fingers, you know, that kind of thing. And he must have been totally out of it because the ambulance was standing by the EMT's immediately came up on the field and doubt him and took him. At the time, scientists were just beginning to establish a link between blows to the head and football and the disease. Now known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or c. t. but much was still unknown a month after Hernandez concussion former Philadelphia Eagles star Andre waters would shoot himself to death at age forty, four. He was later diagnosed with c. t.. Aaron's concussion sidelined him for one game. He came back the following week and finished out his senior season. He was named Connecticut's Gatorade player of the year. Aaron Hernandez was the best high school tight end in the nation. He'd received a trophy case worth of honors, including a coveted invitation to the US army, all American bowl, a showcase for the nation's best high school seniors, his brother, Jonathan, who was playing quarterback at uconn, went home to watch Aaron play. Remember the day I go home and see him have this breakout game as it's hit me. I was like, wow, he's doing things that I didn't even know could happen because I was never that good or been around that kind of talent to see. Jonathan wasn't the only one who could see errands talent up until then he'd seemed set to follow in his brother and father's footsteps by playing at uconn. Listen, you can accomplish anything you want to and. You can go anywhere, and I just said, listen, just, you know, I'm really glad to have you Yukon, and it goes back to being part of, you know, just me going around seeing being brothers. One be together, Aaron, verbally committed to coach Edsel that he'd play football for uconn. Then and Florida came up. University of Florida was a bigger more prestigious program. A top three team. The Gators weren't the only big-name program that came calling. Notre Dame Miami, the university of Michigan, nearly every elite team in the country reached out. Aaron planned visit to Florida, and he seemed to be rethinking his options. Tolleson just be like, talked to me after you home. It's talk. Jonathan says he wasn't against his brother going to Florida. He just wanted to talk. I anyone at Aaron to keep his word to coach Edsel instead also get a phone call. He's committed and. Happened really fast. He chose to play for the national powerhouse in Gainesville. I was just upset that he didn't. He didn't communicate with me and he didn't tell coach before he committed to coach, Myron in their staff. For Aaron. It was a big decision just three months after so much devastating news in his family. He was sixteen and about to embark on big time college football career far from the troubles of home. Looking back, Jonathan, thanks. His brother was never comfortable with the person he saw in the mirror. He really struggled with reflection because of a lot of things that have occurred in his life, and Aaron always wanted to prove something to his father. Remember the time Hawaii rates. He's like, I don't know what else I can do. I don't know if I can do anything. And so I guess this the only thing I can do well, because the person I look up to it makes him the proudest. And okay if I do this, like maybe it'll bring this happiness that I've been searching for and seeking my entire life. Ahrends friend Denison Suzy remembers talking with him about his future plans. One day after practice father at already passed away. We were in the car and he just he opened up in many ways that I didn't really see before. And he was like, man, I wanna be all fame do this, like Aaron was somebody who is dedicated to be the best of the best at his position. Aaron would be one of the best of his generation. If only briefly Denison, Susie, meanwhile was bound for the marines. He says the two of them remained friends through Aaron's NFL career years later in April two thousand seventeen Dennis recalls being home with his father. He started screaming in the house and I woke up from the news was reporting errands, death in prison. It was a terrible shock, and there was more part of the reporting of the article that day. They said that aired had written three letters or a couple of letters that one of them was his gay lover in prison. And my first reaction was that this can't even be true that this has to be fake news. You know, Timpson Suzy was right in a way. No such letter has ever come to light. But the news about a possible gala in prison started a conversation between father and son, Dennis revealed to his dad. That his relationship with Aaron had also been sexual, but it was never a thing. You're with me. I'm with you. We'd live their own lives reform. He's he says, he and Erin closely guarded their secret, especially from their dad's. We didn't want people to know, and that's why it's hard for me to come out today and do this before we talked to him, Dennis had never spoken publicly about this, but he says he feels like Aaron would want him to do this. I really truly feel in my heart. I got the thumbs up for him. So what anyone else says, I just don't give a damn back in the day. Was frowned upon still in society got a negative stigmatism. We were Hawgood athletes who liked women, no hesitation about that. So yeah, the latte overcome, and that's why I say it was a trickle down effect into the marine for that's like now a man's man's group in your. You're trying to hide something just like Erin was, you know, all the tattoos that stuff. That didn't seem like Aaron to me. I have tattoos too, but he wasn't someone who seemed like he was going down the road of getting all those tattoos. But I realized as someone who's bisexual now to, he had to go different routes to try and show his thority because Aaron wasn't alpha and hearing got what he wanted in life. And I don't see anything wrong with them. It's taken a long time for Dennis's father to be comfortable with his son sexuality. When Dennis was younger, Tim, bottom poster. Everybody's familiar with the poster of this kind. It's of the three girls in the string bikinis with the rollerblades on rollerblading down the beach. Right. And I thought to myself, I would poster up their room with with some of that stuff and. And that when they went to sleep at night, that's what they look at, and and because that's what they were looking at night, it would somehow make them a heterosexual. And. And of course, I thought it worked. Listen, I'm a foolish person I've found out in in have been. I've been wrong about everything in my life. When Tim, I learned about Aaron sexuality after the suicide, he mmediately thought of what Dennis Hernandez with think his father's gotta be rolling over in his grave. I mean, Ahrends dad was a man's man. As far as I knew he was guys guy. He was a tough guy in some sense, you know. Since his brother's death. Jonathan Hernandez says he spent a lot of time thinking about the childhood experiences hand Aaron had and what role they played in his brother's life. I think. Thout writing. I don't know writing in. People. I don't know if I would be here today. I'm he is my ability to express. I said, a lot of it was held in this book was parts thing I've ever done. Going back to times in your life where. Just thinking about. He says, he's still processing a lot of what happened. Aaron didn't have as much time to sort out his past as far as his brother knows. Aaron never had any counseling or therapy. He says there were raised to think that would be a sign of weakness. In early two thousand seven, Aaron Hernandez would leave the turmoil of his life in Bristol and head down south. It wouldn't finish his senior year wouldn't go to prom, and he wouldn't be part of all the graduation celebrations arrangements were being made for him to graduate high school whole semester early. So he could get a jump on the coming football season. Cute arrive in Florida to play on college. Football's biggest stage and almost right away. He would find himself in trouble. That's next time on gladiator. From the Boston Globe in one, this is part two of six of gladiator, an investigative series from the spotlight team about Aaron Hernandez and football Inc. If you'd like to help us spread the word, please give us a review and tell you friends to subscribe where available and apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher in every major listening EPP as well as one to reduc com- if you're listening on a smartphone, tap or swipe over the cover out of this podcast, you'll find the episode notes, including some details. You may have missed. You'll also find some offers from our sponsors. Please support our show by supporting them and thank you. Jonathan Hernandez, new memoir about his brother is called the truth about Aaron gladiator was written reported hosted by me Bob Haller and by Beth Healy, Sasha Pfeiffer, Andrew, Ryan, and our spotlight editor Patricia win. You can also be the prince series of glad. Gator that Boston Globe dot com slash gladiator would also like to special thanks to global editors, Ryan McGrory, Scott Allen, Mark Morrow, and Janice page spotlights data specialist, Todd Wallich in reporter, Maria. Cramer gladiator was produced by Amy Padilla sound design by Jeff Schmidt executive produced by George lavender marshal Louis and her non Lopez for one degrees.