When we first got wind Friday about a story regarding convicted former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s sexual orientation, we were certainly curious.
Yet as we dug deeper, the facts weren’t adding up (update at end). Most of the news stories were being based off of one Daily Mail “exclusive” report about a note Hernandez allegedly left for “his gay jailhouse lover” before committing suicide last week.
The Daily Mail is a disreputable media organization whose “reporting” isn’t allowed as fact on Wikipedia. It stretches the truth or sometimes just invents it. Recently the Daily Mail had to apologize and pay almost $3 million to Melania Trump for gross and inaccurate reporting on her work as a model. In other words: You can’t believe much from the Daily Mail.
Other stories about Hernandez were based off of the stories of one reporter — Michele McPhee — of second- and third-hand information about Hernandez’s life in jail for his murder conviction and before his incarceration. Despite McPhee’s claim that Hernandez being bisexual was “common knowledge,” we have yet to find anyone to corroborate this.
Both of these sources seemed to use questionable information at best, and last week we refrained from writing about it.
None of that stopped many reputable news outlets from running with their own stories based on this shaky reporting, including the New York Daily News, New York Post, Sporting News and others. Many LGBT blogs followed suit, reporting on Hernandez’s alleged male lover.
ProFootballTalk shied away from it at first, yet dove in over the weekend with some thoughtful, pointed commentary, hinting that these questions about his sexual orientation may come from a police department with a vendetta.
Given the increasingly widespread nature of this conversation, we felt it was time to offer our commentary.
This story, and the way it has been portrayed, raised our eyebrows from the first moment we saw the headlines. The story, how it’s been reported, and how it has metastasized, troubles us as both journalists and as gay men.
Proclaiming facts with no evidence is shoddy journalism
We’ve seen reports of a suicide note to a “gay lover,” with no evidence. We’ve seen a report that a Hernandez cohort called him a “limp wrist” with no evidence or context. We’ve seem a claim that Hernandez killed a man for calling him a “schmoocher,” with no context of what that means or evidence that it motivated Hernandez. We’ve seen a claim that Hernandez had an “alleged” longtime male lover with zero proof.
Zero evidence. Zero proof. Zero context. Those are three reasons the vast majority of reputable news organizations haven’t touched this story and why we at Outsports will not report on it as a news story. We’re only addressing it now since coverage has been widespread and we wanted to inject a huge note of caution and, hopefully, understanding.
Silence from the Boston Herald and Boston Globe is deafening
These two newspapers have spent many years, several full-time reporters and countless hours digging into the personal life of Aaron Hernandez as he awaited trial, had his day in court, and served time. That neither of them has touched the sexual-orientation angle since it broke last week speaks volumes.
Outsports has been told by a knowledgeable source that one of these papers has unearthed zero evidence pertaining to Hernandez being gay or bisexual. This is telling.
The Globe today wrote a lengthy piece about the battle over his suicide notes without mentioning anything regarding a male lover or his sexual orientation. Again, this speaks volumes about their reporting.
Assuming Hernandez is gay or bisexual because he had sex with men is troublesome
Headlines and reports have labeled Hernandez “bisexual” or having a “gay lover” over the last few days.
Newsflash: Just because a man has sex with another doesn’t make him gay or bisexual. We each get to define what and who we are sexually, even convicted murderers.
The reporting on this by McPhee, who started this entire storyline by proclaiming last week that Hernandez might have possibly conceivably killed a man because of a gay slur, is particularly egregious. She has no trouble labeling Hernandez “bisexual” without ever speaking to Hernandez to ask how he identifies. As an “investigative journalist” in Boston who claims this was “common knowledge,” she could have asked him while he was alive. She waited until he was dead to write a loosely sourced column about him.
Just because a man has had sex with other men does not make him gay or bisexual. We know that is hard to understand for some, but many men “experiment” briefly with other men.
Some men find circumstances drive them to sex with men. Prison is a particularly fascinating place, where otherwise completely straight men engage in sex, or even relationships, with other men.
McPhee and others have chosen to label Hernandez in a way they have never heard him label himself. Sadly, in our culture, “if you have sex with a dude, man, you’re gay.”
The convenient nature that “you can’t libel the dead” casts doubt
To be clear, we don’t believe calling someone “gay” or “bisexual” is libelous in nature.
Yet it’s awfully convenient that these reports coming down have largely been only since Hernandez’s death. Because law prohibits the filing of libel and defamation lawsuits on behalf of a dead person, there is no recourse against potentially false claims. It opens the door to widespread speculation presented as fact.
No one will ever likely know the sexual orientation of Aaron Hernandez
The sexual orientation of each person is defined by one person: themselves.
While we can certainly share stories and insights about heroes like Sally Ride and Luther Vandross, the sexuality of Hernandez is potentially complicated beyond what any of us, in our comfortable lives, could understand.
We have no idea if Hernandez privately identified as gay, bisexual, straight, queer or anything else. Neither the Daily Mail, McPhee nor any other media entity have this information about his personal identification.
Hernandez was a convicted murderer. No matter how you look at him, he had the right to define his sexuality in his own way. It is not up to McPhee, the Daily Mail, or anyone else to do that for him based on speculation and innuendo.
We hope media outlets and people across social media — LGBTQ or otherwise — will cease to discuss this issue until physical evidence is presented that affects the public interest.
Barring any concrete evidence, this is the last you will hear from Outsports on this issue.
Update: Since we wrote this, there have been these developments:
- A lawyer for Kyle Kennedy, an inmate at the prison where Hernandez killed himself, says his client was left a note from Hernandez, whose contents have not been revealed.
- After Hernandez’s family received the notes left by Hernandez in his cell, his attorney, Jose Baez, issued a statement:
“Rumors of letters to a gay lover, in or out of prison, are false,” Baez said. “These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead. . . . Notwithstanding my unambiguous statement that there were no such letters, representatives, on behalf of an individual named Kyle Kennedy, continues to advise the media such a gay love letter exists. Accordingly, on behalf of the family of Aaron Hernandez, I am reaffirming, unequivocally, no such letter to Mr. Kennedy, or any other individual, in or out of prison, exists. l urge anyone continuing to spread these malicious untruths to cease immediately.”