Tomase: CTE didn't kill Odin Lloyd. Aaron Hernandez did

John Tomase
September 22, 2017 - 12:30 am

Boston Globe--USA Today


CTE isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card. Even from the grave, Aaron Hernandez shouldn't get to play it.

The former Patriots tight end, jailed for the premeditated 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, apparently had a brain crusted with the stuff. At least that's what his lawyers are claiming after filing a $20 million lawsuit against the Patriots and the NFL on behalf of his daughter for neglecting to inform the homicidal Hernandez that repeated blows to the head could make him moody and unstable.

Enabled in life and now enabled in death. Hernandez's otherworldly talent caused too many people to excuse behavior that would've gotten the rest of us thrown in jail. He started a bar fight at age 17 in 2007 at the University of Florida but settled out of court. He may have pulled the trigger in a double shooting later that year, but was never charged. He reportedly failed multiple drug tests at Florida that weren't disclosed, dropping the first-team All-American to the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He was acquitted of a 2012 double murder in Boston, though "not guilty" does not necessarily equal "innocent." He probably shot one of his friends in the face in 2013.

By the time he killed Lloyd in a North Attleboro industrial park, he rightly considered himself bulletproof. He hadn't faced repercussions for any of his prior misdeeds, so why would he start now?

A jury finally disabused him of that notion in 2015 by convicting him of Lloyd's murder, which carried an automatic life sentence. He never served it, because earlier this year, hours before the Patriots visited the White House to celebrate their fifth championship, Hernandez hung himself in his cell.

We may have thought that was the end of the story, but we were wrong. On Thursday, armed with a report from Boston University's CTE Center, attorney Jose Baez announced his lawsuit. BU's Dr. Ann McKee had discovered stage 3 CTE in Hernandez's brain, one step below the most damaging level of the disease. "We're told it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron's age," Baez said.

Let's stop right here. There's a pretty good chance that Hernandez either murdered or attempted to murder at least six people between 2007 and 2013. Blaming that pattern of behavior on anyone other than Hernandez insults the memory of Odin Lloyd, and it probably doesn't make the families of Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado, murdered at a stoplight in 2012, feel very good, either.

But people covered for Hernandez for his entire life, so why should anyone stop now? He became a murderer because his dad died during his senior of high school. He became a thug because he hung around the wrong people. He lost his way because he smoked too much angel dust. Now we're being told his memory loss, impulsivity and aggression may trace to CTE.

You know what's missing from all of the above? Some acknowledgement that perhaps Hernandez played a role in his downfall; some personal responsibility for his actions; someone to say he deserves the blame for his life choices.

Even if repeated blows to the head impaired him cognitively, Hernandez didn't seem particularly impulsive when he texted two flunkeys from out of state to join him on June 16 because, "you can't trust anyone anymore." It appeared he knew what he was doing when he picked up Lloyd in a rental car and drove to that industrial park in the wee hours of June 17. His memory seemed to be functioning properly when he destroyed his home security system, smashed his cell phone, and hired a team of cleaners to sterilize his home later that morning.

His attorney will argue that this behavior could be traced to CTE, and maybe there's an element of truth to that. Another explanation would be that Hernandez was a psychopath.

In the wake of Thursday's revelations about the extent of Hernandez's brain damage, it's tempting to argue that the NFL has a nightmare on its hands. Colleague Alex Reimer expertly laid out that scenario, noting that even though the NFL would almost certainly win in court, the damage done during discovery could inspire an avalanche of lawsuits. That's why the NFL could even decide to settle before it gets that far.

If that's how this plays out, then it will feel like Hernandez got away with another one, because CTE didn't pump half a dozen bullets into Odin Lloyd while he tried to crawl away. There's a pretty good chance Aaron Hernandez did.

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