Greg Cote

American tragedy: Aaron Hernandez’s final victim was himself, for his own wasted life

There has been the condemnation you'd expect, more sentiment that Aaron Hernandez now might burn in hell than rest in peace.

Amid that torrent of good-riddance we also have been reminded that Hernandez had loved ones, too, family and friends mourning that he died in prison overnight Wednesday while serving a life sentence for murder.

In the middle of those extremes, an attempt at understanding, perhaps even of empathy for a wasted life, feels right.

There are only tears left in this American tragedy. It is tough to feel any triumph in Hernandez meeting his fate when all of the victims in his sad path include Hernandez himself, the first and ultimate victim of his own actions.

Hernandez died at age 27 at around 3 a.m. Wednesday with a bedsheet for a noose, hanging in the cell that became his permanent home when he was convicted of a 2013 homicide and given life without parole. Massachusetts prison authorities are calling it a suicide. Hernandez's lawyer and others suspect he may have been murdered. But the distinction seems almost moot. Hernandez's life and soul had already withered by his own hand, his own absence of heart. (Surely it was a joyless, Pyrrhic victory last week when the man serving a life sentence was found not guilty of an unrelated double murder -- a crime for which most assumed Hernandez's guilt even after the acquittal).

The lack of sympathy for Hernandez is understandable. But so, perhaps, is the feeling felt in the words of Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, who was Hernandez's close friend and former Florida Gators teammate. Pouncey wrote on Instagram: "To my friend and brother! Through thick and thin right or wrong we never left each other's side. Today my heart hurts as I got the worse news I could have imagined. It was just a day ago we shared our last convo. I will forever miss you and love you bro. We will meet again rest easy!"

There was the killing side of Hernandez, the side that gave itself to gangs and the thug lifestyle. But loved ones knew and wangt to recall a different, better Aaron.

Only on this might we all agree: What a shame. Hernandez had such a promising future in the NFL, fame and riches at his feet. His first three seasons with the New England Patriots he caught 175 passes for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns. On that team, with that coach, with Tom Brady, he was a future star, a future champion -- all of it thrown away. More important, he leaves behind a 4-year-old daughter, too. He leaves behind 50 years of what might have been.

Our challenge, and it isn't an easy one: An attempt at empathy for the man who died in his his prison cell, for the waste of his own life.

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