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The American tragedy of Odin Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez

What is a dream, once it has died, but a tragedy?

Odin Lloyd's family reacts in court on Wednesday.
Odin Lloyd's family reacts in court on Wednesday.

Odin Lloyd deserved better. Odin Lloyd deserves better.

I believe in few absolute truths, but one of them is this: The most just way to die is old age. If you are one of the humans lucky enough to enjoy health and happiness for 80 or more years on Earth, you have gotten a life with many blessings that are rarer than you might think. We all die, one way or another — another absolute truth — and being able to fill the time before death with love, family, and joy is a recipe for a successful life.

Odin Lloyd died at 27, and the only detail revealed about his life since is his semi-pro football career. His mother sobbed in court yesterday, watching the man suspected of killing her son listen to the litany of charges he faces and learn of the sheaf of evidence the prosecution has piled up. Lloyd did not get the long, just life, nor did his family get a long, full life, with their son leaving this plane before they did. The memory of Lloyd's death — Odin's murder — will be with them for the rest of their lives.

Odin Lloyd deserved better than that because everyone deserves better than that. Odin Lloyd also deserves better than to be a footnote in his own story.


But Lloyd is now part of Aaron Hernandez's tragedy as much as he is his own. Aaron Hernandez deserved what he got up until June 16, 2013, and has deserved much of what he has gotten since, but it is already clear that he will deserve both what he will eventually get, and deserve a lot better.

Hernandez's spectacular talents as a football player got him a great life, one that could well have ended 60 years from now, with grandchildren and an inheritance for them. He cried when he signed his eight-figure contract with the Patriots this spring, and talked about having "a good life," and "be(ing) there to live a good life with my family." One night's inhumanity has cost him that, likely for good.

The Patriots released Hernandez within two hours of his arrest; I'm willing to bet that, should he end up free, he will never play football in the NFL again, not as long as Roger Goodell is around. And let's be clear: He's not going to beat all of the charges, not like Ray Lewis did in a much murkier situation that featured plenty of prosecutorial overreach and very little evidence. The case laid out in court by the prosecution on Wednesday paints Hernandez as an unfeeling murderer who killed Lloyd, then returned home to resume his life, and includes weapons charges and a mountain of evidence that make the chances of Hernandez living life as a free man remote, even if he is not found guilty of murder in the first degree.

If guilty, he deserves all of those consequences for his actions, and may deserve more, given the new detail that Hernandez is being investigated in a 2012 double killing. I don't believe in the death penalty (I think it lowers the state to the same position as the murderer, among other reasons), but I do believe in life imprisonment without the chance of parole, and, if guilty of the charges he is facing, Hernandez would seem to deserve that.

But he doesn't deserve more than that.

Hernandez doesn't deserve the back-patting, self-righteous celebration of people reveling in his failure, nor dumbass proclamations that he is "a thug with alligator arms," nor cheap, wrong pop psychology that means nothing. The nearly 47 years of O.J. Simpson's life prior to the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman showed little indication that he would be eventually be charged with murder; many killers have shown remorse for their crimes. Neither the path to June 13 nor Hernandez's reaction to being charged changes his culpability, but it certainly does make for a better, more expansive story, the one that will sell.

The Simpson trial was compelling for a variety of reasons, including the novelties of around-the-clock coverage of a criminal trial and a nationally televised police chase and the presence of race and class as twin elephants in the room. It was reality television before reality television, and its echoes have produced so many things, from Kato Kaelin to Kim Kardashian, that it's hard not to conclude that the moment in American life was seismic.

The Hernandez trial might rival it. Simpson, though he was very well-known, was a retired athlete; Hernandez was active, and played an important role on one of the NFL's best teams. Simpson's trial was in Los Angeles, an epicenter of media coverage; Hernandez, who shares a hometown with ESPN, will stand trial in a Boston suburb, far closer to New York's klieg lights. Simpson's trial didn't occur in a time of saturation for social media; Hernandez will be tweeted about incessantly until and likely after the verdict. Simpson was as squeaky clean as a black man in America gets; Hernandez has tattoos and Glock selfies and shooting investigations and weed and "character concerns."

That will mean more stupid remarks, more callous memes, more harebrained theories, more finger-wagging, more second-guessing, more stigmas about tattooed Hispanic men standing in for analysis, and more pressure to jump to conclusions and have the best take on Hernandez than ever before. Mike Tanier did an excellent job of pinpointing why this saga is already a nightmare for anyone interested in sober analysis last week; Charlie Pierce helped show why it's so valuable on Monday by drawing the parallels between Hernandez and celebrated accused murderer/fugitive Whitey Bulger and between the death of Odin Lloyd and the deaths of three people in Roxbury.

Both of them are powerless to stop the tide of public opinion. I'm not sure anyone could.


Those shooting victims in Roxbury deserve more than being remembered as shooting victims, just as Odin Lloyd deserves more than to be a reminder that Christopher Wallace was both cynical and correct about being nobody until somebody kills you. The dozens of homicide victims in Chicago in 2013, many younger than Hernandez, deserve more than a line on a Chicago Tribune-maintained Google Doc.

They won't get it in life, but we can do things to make up for that, in small yet significant ways, in death.

Maybe Lloyd's parents make a concerted push to steer children in New England schools away from violence. Maybe Will Muschamp calls his team together for a meeting, NCAA rules about coaches interacting with players in the offseason be damned, to remind them that having all the talent in the world for football means very little if you cannot behave responsibly in society, and that any number of millions can't be spend from behind bars. Maybe the Patriots and the NFL quietly find a way to take care of Lloyd's family, not because they have to, but because they can. Maybe a news outlet decides to cover Hernandez's trial without histrionics and hyperbole.

Maybe Hernandez, years from now, in prison, tells the story of how it all went so wrong, and how grave his mistake was, offering his cautionary tale as a means of meager penance. Maybe we all silently agree that, for every moment we spend worrying about how this affects the reputations of living people and institutions, we spend another praying or thinking good thoughts for Odin Lloyd and his family.

Hernandez had realized an American dream, maybe The American Dream, as a successful and rich famous person with a family and a future. He has forfeited it, and seems complicit in bringing an abrupt end to another American's pursuit of it. This is, unequivocally, a tragedy, and it is outrageous how common it really is, and how many similar tales could be told.

Maybe this is the moment we decide to do everything in our power to preserve and protect those sacred dreams for everyone. But maybe not.


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