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Netflix scores: The trauma behind a killer pro-athlete

By in Culture

Just because the Patriots aren’t going to the Super Bowl this year doesn’t mean that they’re out of the spotlight. Netflix’s latest addition to its plethora of true crime documentary series reignites crucial discussions surrounding violence, toxic masculinity and football.   

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez tells the story of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez who, in 2013, was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd and later indicted for the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. 

This three episode docuseries is not Netflix’s first rodeo when it comes to true crime. Similar to other popular Netflix true crime series such as Making a Murderer, Killer Inside is full of suspense and intrigue, enthralling viewers with twists and cliffhangers that will keep audiences at the edge of their seat. 

However, the series still feels new and creative, taking the basic formula of discussing a subject’s life in true crime documentaries and combining it with a critical look into the systemic, damaging problems that plague football culture. Even if you are familiar with the story of Aaron Hernandez, details about Hernandez’s life and the inner workings of football allow for surprise and emotional investment.  

The series is centred around Hernandez’s trials, cutting back and forth to different points in Hernandez’s life while never giving away big twists prematurely. Despite being told in a predominantly non-linear fashion, the series is not hard to follow as viewers are often reminded of the narrative’s timeline to avoid confusion. 

Though it focuses on two vicious crimes, the series itself is not particularly gruesome. The murders are discussed and some crime scene photos are shown, but there is nothing too grisly. If you’re a fan of true crime but a bit squeamish, this series should suit you just fine.

Shawna Langer / Graphics Editor

The story of Hernandez’s life and trials is recounted through interviews with lawyers, journalists, former football players and other people who knew Hernandez personally. These various perspectives allow for not only an understanding of Hernandez from a criminal and judiciary standpoint but also of his history, his past and his character. 

It is vital for a good documentary to have a balance between the legal and the personal in order to both tell an accurate account of the story but also to make audiences care about what they are watching. 

It is easier to care about something that you become emotionally invested in, even when it comes to television shows. Killer Inside encourages a mixture of emotions from viewers, suggesting that feelings of anger, sorrow, disdain and sympathy are all valid when watching this series.    

In particular, the audio of phone calls from Hernandez to his friends and family while in prison are played intermittently throughout the episodes. These moments on the phone are the most complex human depictions of Hernandez in the series, allowing a further glimpse into his psyche. It’s hard not to listen to some of those calls and feel such sadness and frustration at the lives lost and torn apart due to greed and violence. 

The more complete image of Hernandez in this series does not condone his violent behaviour. It encourages the audience to think about the impacts of repression, of trauma, of not having a healthy support system.

While sympathy is felt most strongly for the victims and their families, this series challenges its audience to rethink the idea of who is a victim. Is it those who lost their lives and loved ones to violence? Absolutely. 

And what about those who get hurt in the name of capitalism and entertainment? Those who die so corporations can keep making money? What kind of victims are they? Do they deserve our sympathy? Killer Inside appears to argue that they do.       

The telling of Hernandez’s life — from childhood, to college, to the NFL, to his arrest — gives the audience a sense of how someone who appears successful can have a dark side. It ask audiences important questions of how abuse, stress and physical injury contribute to a descent into violence. These may feel like uncomfortable questions, but Killer Inside shows viewers that sometimes, it’s crucial to ask difficult questions if we want to change harmful systems. 

The tremendous amount of pressure inflicted on athletes at both a college and professional level can force players, coaches and communities to make poor decisions, which may be lucrative but harmful to the players.

This pressure ingrains in players the idea that they need to stay in the game, playing through injuries and concussions. Like many recent criticisms of athletics, this series highlights the detriment of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive head injuries. The series shows the damaging impact of years and years of physical trauma.

While the series also valuably discusses the horrific homophobia present in football culture, it’s almost as if the show wants to have its cake and eat it too. The series criticizes the media’s focus on Hernandez’s sexuality both during and after his trials. 

However, the series does discuss Hernandez’s sexual history in detail to the point where it seems to be presenting his sexuality as a salacious topic. It would have been effective enough to shed light on the impacts of being raised in a homophobic environment and existing in the hyper­-
masculine world of football rather than focusing so heavily on his sexuality.

This documentary shows the kind of positive, supportive communities that can be created by the sport while reminding audiences that we can no longer feign ignorance about the detrimental, permanent damage football players accumulate over their athletic careers.

While Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez does not make excuses for violence and murder, it never lets its audience forget that there is a connection between violent behaviour and trauma. 

Whether you’re familiar with the story of Aaron Hernandez or not, if you’re a fan of true crime or of sports and you have three hours, give this series a watch. You may be surprised by what you learn and the questions you’re left grappling with.

Vici Herbison

Graphic: Shawna Langer / Graphics Editor

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