ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell this morning. He evidently hanged himself. The former New England Patriot star was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013. Hernandez was 27. His life was short and violent. His lengthy arrest record included everything from drug offenses to a double murder in Boston of which he was just acquitted last week.
But looking in from the outside, you have to wonder, how does a guy who had just signed a $40 million contract with the Patriots and with a potential Hall of Fame career in front of him throw it all away? For some perspective on that, we turn now to Shira Springer of member station WBUR in Boston. And Shira, were you surprised when you heard the news this morning?
SHIRA SPRINGER, BYLINE: Shocked, absolutely shocked when I heard it, especially since it comes five days after he was acquitted of murder charges in another case. So things seemed at least in terms of the legal proceedings he was going through to be turning around.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about Aaron Hernandez. He grew up in Bristol, Conn. He was a great football star. On the other hand, he seemed to never escape the worst elements of his upbringing.
SPRINGER: Yeah. He was a football prodigy in high school in Bristol, Conn. And not only that - he was an honor student. This was a guy who had gained enough credits in high school to actually go to Florida, you know, halfway through his senior year.
SIEGEL: To the University of Florida.
SPRINGER: Yes, to the University of Florida for college. And he was there as a 17-year-old. But you're right. One of the key things that happened to him when he was a young man, when he was 16, was that his father died. And that really devastated him and completely rocked his world. And from there, he fell in with a bad crowd, and he never was able to really separate himself from that last sort of year where he was fatherless before he headed to the University of Florida.
SIEGEL: We should note his older brother who was also a star athlete in Bristol, Conn., became a high school football coach and evidently survived the same family experience without quite the same damage that...
SIEGEL: ...Aaron Hernandez sustained. Here's what Aaron Hernandez said back in 2012 when he had just been signed to this extremely lucrative contract extension with the New England Patriots.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AARON HERNANDEZ: This is a place that not only did it change my future from them paying me, but it just changed me as a person 'cause you can't come here and act reckless and do your own stuff. Now that I'm a Patriot, I have to start living like one and making the right decisions for them.
SIEGEL: You know, for me, what's so striking about that is that it was obvious that he had to change 'cause he'd already been involved in bar brawls and shooting incidents. And it was evident that this was a young man who needed some kind of guidance.
SPRINGER: Yeah, and I think it's also obvious that he recognized he needed some kind of guidance. And there was a part of him that certainly wanted to change because he had and he knew he had a tremendous opportunity in front of him. This was the Patriots. He was going to be a star for the Patriots. There were Super Bowls ahead for him, and he knew that.
And I think part of the problem was ironically - was that he was so close to Bristol, Conn. Here in Boston, we're about two hours away from his home town of Bristol, Conn., and he really could never get away from those people in Bristol who were pulling him down.
SIEGEL: I can't help but feel that if Aaron Hernandez had been a big athletic strong guy but with a lousy pair of hands and he couldn't hold on to a pass, that somebody would have thrown him out of the University of Florida, would have dropped him from the roster at New England because he was so much trouble.
SPRINGER: I think you're absolutely right. Now, nothing excuses the fact that he is a convicted murderer. But I also have to wonder that because he was such a good athlete and so talented for so long that people didn't intervene in the way that they might or the way that they should have along the way. I'm not saying that would have stopped what ultimately happened, but it could have helped in some way.
SIEGEL: Shira Springer of WBUR talking about the late Aaron Hernandez with us. Thanks.
SPRINGER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.