Top Boston Sports Stories of 2013, No. 2: Aaron Hernandez charged with murder

December 31, 2013 - 5:29 am
Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 13 stories of 2013 in Boston sports. This is No. 2: Aaron Hernandez charged with murder. To see the previous entries, click here. On Aug. 27, 2012, the Patriots rewarded tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of the team'€™s most promising players, with a lucrative contract extension. The deal would lock up Hernandez until 2018, paying him $40 million over five years. "As soon as we started talking about contracts, I was emotional from that day on," Hernandez said at a preseason gala hosted by the team just after the details of his contract were revealed. "Honestly, it's hard for me here [at the gala] to stay, keeping my mind off it, and it's just, like I said, it's surreal. Probably when I'm done with this conversation I'll get some tears in my eyes. But it's real, and it's an honor." But less than one year later, the 23-year-old Hernandez was in a whale of legal trouble, and football and the monstrous contract he'€™d signed seemed immensely inconsequential. On June 26, Massachusetts State Police took Hernandez into custody on first-degree murder charges and five gun-related charges. Nearly two months later he was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player from Boston who hung around with Hernandez. There also reportedly are ongoing investigations into other shootings in Florida and Massachusetts as well as gun trafficking that have links to Hernandez. New England acted swiftly, cutting the third-year tight end. "A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss," the team said in a statement. "Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do." The usually curt Bill Belichick spoke with reporters roughly a month after Hernandez'€™s arrest and spoke publicly about the issue for the first and only time. "I'€™m going to address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez today. I felt that it was important enough to do that prior to the start of camp,"€ Belichick said, reading from a written statement. "€œIt'€™s a sad day, it'€™s really a sad day on so many levels. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and I extend my sympathy to everyone who'€™s been impacted. A young man lost his life and his family has suffered a tragic loss, and there'€™s no way to understate that. "When I was out of the country, I learned about the ongoing criminal investigations that involved one of our players, and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed with what we learned. Having someone in your organization that'€™s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing, and after consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively." Hernandez allegedly shot and murdered the 27-year-old Lloyd, who was dating Hernandez'€™s fiancee'€™s sister, in June. Lloyd's body was discovered in an industrial park a mile from Hernandez'€™s North Attleboro home. Hernandez, who also faces a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Lloyd's family, remains held without bail at the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction. Hernandez reportedly wrote a letter to an unidentified supporter, declaring that he would "prove all the haters"€ wrong. In Hernandez'€™s three seasons as a pro, he had firmly entrenched himself as a vital part of the Patriots€™ offense. His contract reflected New England'€™s commitment to build around Hernandez and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski. In 2012, Hernandez caught 51 passes for 483 yards and five touchdowns, although he sat out six games with a badly sprained ankle. The previous year he had 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns, all career highs. In an effort to erase Hernandez's memory, the Patriots offered a free exchange of Hernandez jerseys from the team's pro shop. This gesture cost New England $250,000, according to owner Robert Kraft.