What was most striking after watching the four-hour Oxygen documentary “Aaron Hernandez Uncovered” was the homophobia it revealed surrounding his trials.
The documentary examined the life and death of Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star who was convicted of one murder, later acquitted of two others, and then hung himself in a Massachusetts jail cell on April 19, 2017.
Much of the buzz around the documentary, aired in two parts this weekend, has been the assertion from one of Hernandez’s attorneys, George Leontire, that Hernandez was “clearly gay” and “acknowledged it. Acknowledged the immense pain that it caused him.” Leontire himself is openly gay and married to a man.
Hernandez’s college girlfriend also said she had uncovered evidence that he had a relationship with a man while they were dating and that Hernandez later indirectly acknowledged it.
Despite Leontire’s assertion, he offers no proof other than Hernandez’s alleged private admission, and we still don’t know what Hernandez’s sexual orientation really was. With him dead, we will never know. This is basically what we wrote last year and nothing in the documentary changed our minds.
Yet the details laid out in the documentary — and the intentional revealing of private information about Hernandez’s personal life — were troublesome. If a lawyer will reveal what he says are the inner-most secrets of a deceased client, it does not bode well for closeted LGBTQ athletes often looking for trusted confidants.
In the documentary, Leontire offered a desperately black-and-white perspective of sexuality that belies the perspective of sexual orientation in 2018.
“Here’s a man who happened to be gay, who loved a woman,” he said. As though his alleged admission of an attraction to men automatically makes Hernandez “gay.” It’s a sad commentary on this lawyer’s perspective.
In addition to his own lawyer’s misguided posthumous claims, what also stands out was the homophobia from the prosecution, and some in the media, that enveloped Hernandez’s second trial.
Hernandez was found guilty in 2015 of the 2013 murder of his friend Odin Lloyd. He was sentenced to life in prison. While awaiting trial for that killing in 2014, Hernandez was charged with two counts of murder for an unrelated 2012 case in Boston. This second trial was held in 2017, and Hernandez was found not guilty.
The documentary revealed that prosecutors in the double murder case wanted to use Hernandez’s sexual orientation as a motive for why the two men were killed, insinuating that Hernandez felt intense shame about his same-sex attraction. When Leontire and Hernandez’s lead attorney Jose Baez objected strenuously, the issue was dropped, the two attorneys say in the documentary,
“The prosecution realized they were facing an uphill battle, and they didn’t try that tactic,” Baez said. Using someone’s sexuality in this manner is prohibited in Massachusetts, Leontire said.
“I found it outrageous that the government would try and use someone’s sexuality to try and prop up a case that they had no business bringing in the first case,” Leontire said.
After Hernandez was acquitted in April 2017, Boston reporter Michele McPhee went on the WEEI radio show hosted by Gerry Callahan and Kirk Minihane, and that’s when the homophobic speculation really flew.
As the two hosts giggled in introducing her, McPhee asked, “How come you guys never tried to get his boyfriend? He has this lover and that was one of the motives.”
Callahan or Minihane (it’s hard to tell who was speaking): “Michele has the real motive.”
McPhee: “Let’s just say that Aaron Hernandez was a former tight end before he was kicked out by the Patriots.”
Callahan and Minihane: “On and off the field as well. Then he became a wide receiver (laughing).”
McPhee got the attention she wanted, as her allegation about Hernandez having a male lover went “viral,” according to her. “Everybody in Boston was talking about it,” she says in the documentary.
McPhee never said how she knew this, offering zero evidence. Leontire said he is convinced that the source was someone involved with the prosecution who leaked it after they failed to convict Hernandez of the murders of the two men.
Baez reacted to the WEEI segment, saying, “I have a hard time even discussing it. To use those old, idiotic childish jokes, [McPhee] and those idiots on the radio. They’re so ass-backwards that they think a person’s sexuality is a joke.”
This was the same disgraced WEEI that has propped up sensationalistic commentators for years, most recently highlighted by racist comments by Christian Fauria. The entire WEEI station went silent for 12 hours recently so the entire staff could go through much-needed sensitivity training. On Monday, in discussing the documentary on their show, Callahan and Minihane made fun of Hernandez’s fiancee Shayanna Jenkins’ first name and referred to Leontire as “the fat gay lawyer.”
Hernandez heard about the April 2017 segment while in his prison cell, a TV reporter says in the documentary, and it upset him. A couple of days later, he hung himself.
Callahan defended himself on the documentary, saying, “I’m not sure why everyone is afraid to report it [about Hernandez’s sexual orientation]. I guess it’s fear of being labeled a homophobe. You’re talking about a freaking murderer. We reported it and if that pushed him over the edge, so be it. I have no regrets. I don’t know why anyone would.”
What McPhee, Callahan and Minihane don’t get is that her report was unsourced, with zero evidence presented. It was salacious in an attempt to make gay people the butt of a joke and get attention. To defend it solely because you’re discussing “a freaking murderer” shows Callahan has no legitimate argument.
Callahan also speculates that their reporting may have caused Hernandez to hang himself — “we reported it and if that pushed him over the edge, so be it” — but there is zero evidence of that either.
In the documentary, a former girlfriend of Hernandez piled on by raising a specter long-used by some anti-gay forces to explain away homosexuality.
“He admitted to being molested as a kid, but he never dealt with it,” she claimed. “And it lead to issues in his sexuality.”
Of course, Hernandez is not alive to speak to any of this and there is no evidence of a tie between any molestation and his sexual orientation. Because the show did not use a voice-over from a narrator and simply went from sound-bite to sound-bite from the participants, interspersed with trial footage and news clips, there was no attempt to tell viewers whether the producers tried to corroborate the claims.
It’s disappointing that Oxygen, which has been recognized for excellence by some LGBTQ organizations, simply aired claims about Hernandez’s sexual orientation with no context or evidence.