Netflix’s Killer Inside Has Me Shook

You guys. Netflix is coming in hot in 2020. Last week, it dropped its three-part docuseries Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, which chronicles the rise and subsequent downfall of the NFL star, who committed suicide in 2017 after being convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd and acquitted of two other murders.

The docuseries opens with news footage of Boston police escorting the then New England Patriot tight end out of his home, a white tee shirt covering the handcuffs all while news cameras capture every step. It then cuts to a vastly different scene: Aaron Hernandez scoring the first touchdown for the Patriots in 2011’s Super Bowl, basking in the glory amid flashing lights and deafening cheers. It’s a startling contrast and symbolic of the thin line between fame and notoriety.

It’s Not Just About Football

Let me just state for the record that I am not a football fan. I don’t have a favorite team or even know the basic terminology. However, I devoured this series. Before I started, I thought I knew the Aaron Hernandez story. I remember the headlines and even binged Wondery’s Gladiator, which definitely deserves your time. In fact, I thought there was nothing left to learn. When it ended, Killer Inside left me completely speechless and completely wrong – there’s so much more to this case. To quote one interviewee:

“The story is not just the Aaron Hernandez story. There’s a lot of lives affected by this guy.”

Within the three episodes, Killer Inside asks the question: Who or what is to blame for Aaron Hernandez? But the answer isn’t as simple as black and white. In fact, it presents a complicated, intricate puzzle with so many pieces, that it leaves more questions than answers. It’s a disturbing and captivating examination into the troubled athlete, the problematic NFL, and our society. To put it bluntly, we’re fucked up and Aaron Hernandez is the product of it.

The Takeaway

It’s easy to dismiss Killer Inside as just being a sports documentary. Of course, it does review his stats and explains what made him an unstoppable force on the field. However, it goes beyond touchdowns and completed passes. Killer Inside acts as a mirror, reflecting back problems and shortcomings not just in the NFL, but in our culture as a whole.

The series addresses the impact of trauma – both emotional and physical – and how it lends a heavy hand in one’s development, especially when it goes untreated or even just simply ignored. Aaron Hernandez lived a life filled with red flags: a physically abusive father, a neglectful mother, the absence of strong, positive role models and advocates, persistent irrational and violent emotions and reactions commonly associated with sociopathy, and finally physical and mental pain – including one of the most severe cases of CTE – attributed to years of football. Unfortunately, those same flags persisted throughout his life, never addressed until after his death.

Killer Inside also tackles (you knew that pun was coming) the issue of gender roles and sexuality. It sheds light on not just Hernandez but other NFL players’ struggle to hide their authentic selves in a culture that’s still plagued by archaic and dangerous ideas of masculinity: physical strength, violence, the absence of “negative” emotions like sadness. In the series’ most gut-wrenching moment, former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan recalls the lengths he would go to hide his homosexuality and the eventual toll it would take on him both physically and mentally. Although we’ve made strides in the fight for equality and acceptance, Killer Inside shows that the game isn’t over yet.

The documentary does not encourage us to forgive Aaron Hernandez’s sins or to simply excuse his behavior. Quite the contrary. The series places his erratic and volatile behavior under a microscope, showing us that this just wasn’t a punk-ass kid who made a couple of bad decisions. In the end, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez exposes the consequences when we focus on the person as a commodity and neglect the human being.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is now streaming on Netflix.

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