By Maer Roshan and Steven Blum
Aaron Hernandez was having a pretty good week. On Friday, April 14th, a Boston jury had unanimously acquitted the NFL star in the 2012 double murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. A visibly relieved Hernandez embraced his attorney, Jose Baez, who later told the press, “[Hernandez] is one step closer to being reunited with his family.” Baez was hopeful that he could also overturn the life sentence that Hernandez had received for murdering his longtime friend Odin Lloyd. “He still has the appeal [of the Lloyd conviction], and those appeals can be overturned” the lawyer predicted.
So why—less than a week later— did the 27-year-old football star hang himself with a bed sheet in his jail cell?
According to some observers, his suicide was a frantic response to being outed. Indeed, the first public mention of the football star’s alleged bisexuality had emerged in public just two days before Hernandez’s death, when a veteran Boston reporter casually mentioned it during an appearance on a popular Boston radio show.
Michelle McPhee, a longtime journalist with the Boston Herald and The New York Daily News, had covered the Hernandez murder case closely ever since it broke in 2015. Tipped off by one of her sources, she was among the first on the scene after cops arrived at Hernandez’s Massachusetts home to question him about Lloyd’s murder. But her April 17th appearance on WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan” show was not supposed to have anything to do with Hernandez. She’d been invited to discuss her bestselling new book, Maximum Harm, an insider account of the Boston Marathon bombings. But during a commercial break McPhee confided to the hosts about a rumor— which she claims had long circulated in Boston police circles—that the former NFL star was a closeted bisexual.
In an interview with FourTwoNine, McPhee now insists she had no intention of discussing Hernandez’s sexuality when she appeared on the show. She said, “I was telling them the story in passing during a commercial, and then they brought it up on air: Aaron Hernandez is gay!”
“This rumor, this Aaron Hernandez rumor—which is so juicy, I want to get into it. It is big,” said Gerry Callahan, as soon as the show resumed.
“It’s certainly something we can play with as the days go on,” chimed in his co-host, Kirk Minihane. “I’m not sure how comfortable Michelle is in talking about it.”
But McPhee was game. “Hey, let’s tease away,” she replied.
“Michelle knows the real motive for the murder of Odin Lloyd,” Callahan continued. “And let’s just say that Odin Lloyd caught Aaron Hernandez in a compromising position.”
In the brief exchange that followed, Minihane joked that Hernandez was a tight end, “both on and off the field.” McPhee added that Hernandez “kicked with both feet.”
The revelations quickly reverberated throughout Boston. The segment was promptly picked up by Metro, a daily newspaper with a large Boston presence. Two days later Hernandez was dead.
Not surprisingly, that radio interview has been blamed in some quarters for provoking the athlete’s suicide. “He killed himself on Wednesday—like the next day—and now everyone’s saying it’s because I outed him,” McPhee admits. But she maintains that by the time he was imprisoned, Hernandez had made no effort to conceal his sexuality. She claims that Hernandez’s relationship with a prisoner named Kennedy was an open secret at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, the Massachusetts prison where both men had been confined since 2015.
Criticism of the reporter intensified when, shortly after Hernandez’s death, McPhee wrote a blockbuster story on him for Newsweek. The article, largely based on information from blind sources in the Boston PD, alleged that Hernandez had been provoked to murder Odin after his longtime friend had publicly derided him as a “schmoocher,” a Boston street term for homosexuals. McPhee went on to report that Ernest Wallace—a co-defendant in the Lloyd murder case—told police that he wouldn’t have helped Hernandez dispose of the murder weapon if he’d known Hernandez was a “limp wrist.” But her biggest revelation was that Hernandez had openly carried on a relationship with a 22-year-old fellow inmate named Kyle Kennedy. (Kennedy was sentenced to Souza after his arrest for armed robbery in 2015, arriving at the Boston-area facility a few months after Hernandez did.)
Not surprisingly, McPhee’s scoop quickly earned national attention. Hernandez’s lawyer, Jose Baez, blasted her story and angrily denied that his client was bisexual. “Rumours of letters to a gay lover—in or out of prison—are false,” he told TMZ Sports last week. “These are malicious leaks used to tarnish somebody who is dead.” Earlier that day, George Leontire, an attorney for Hernandez’s fiancee, told a Massachusetts judge, “The press is killing us. It’s killing this guy. It’s killing his family.” But a Facebook page set up shortly after Hernandez was sent to prison would seem to corroborate McPhee’s claim. Titled “Gay Men for Aaron Hernandez,” the sympathetic forum was created on February 15th, 2016, and featured images of the football star posed against a rainbow flag alongside posts about “bisexual awareness” and gay life in prison. One post advocated the distribution of condoms in prison because “it will stop inmates like Aaron from getting AIDS and infecting others while practicing a gay lifestyle.” (FourTwoNine’s attempts to contact the owner of the account were unsuccessful.)
For his part, Lawrence Army Jr., an attorney who represents Hernandez’s alleged prison boyfriend, has been coy about his client’s sexuality. While declining to discuss “the nature and extent” of Kennedy’s relationship with Hernandez, he says that the men “were close friends who spent a great deal of time together in prison.” Until now, at least, Kennedy, who hails from an upper-middle-class Boston family, has publicly represented himself as heterosexual. His bio for “Write a Prisoner”, an online pen-pal site, says as much. There are some who believe his sudden caginess about the issue may be financially motivated. Last week, Army claimed that Hernandez had promised to leave Kennedy a $47,000 watch. His letters from Hernandez, if they indeed exist, might be worth millions to tabloids and sites like TMZ.
Baez, Hernandez’s lawyer, confirms that Hernandez left notes for his fiancee and daughter. But he angrily denies that the athlete left a third note for Kennedy. Army believes otherwise; at his recent press conference, the lawyer suggested that parts of one of those letters were “incoherent” because they might have been written in prison code intended only for Kennedy to understand. “I was told by a source that parts of the letter didn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “When I explained that to my client, he said there’s a language that’s spoken and in written form in a prison that is made that way so that it appears incoherent and so that others don’t understand what the meaning is.”
In addition to slings from Hernandez’s lawyer and his advocates, McPhee has also taken some heat from the press. Soon after his suicide, the gay sports site Outsports cast doubt on reports of Hernandez’s bisexuality, blaming the rumors on McPhee’s “loosely sourced” story. An article posted last weekend by The New Yorker was also skeptical of McPhee’s decision to out Hernandez, calling her reporting “worrisome” and “careless.”
“I will sincerely apologize for my inartful language. I did say he kicked with both feet, but anyone who knows me can attest that I’m anything but homophobic. I wasn’t happy at the way the guys spoke about it either. But it’s a sports show. They’re supposed to be dicks!” – Michelle McPhee
In an interview with FourTwoNine McPhee expressed regret for the flippant manner in which she and the radio hosts discussed Hernandez’s sexuality on-air. “I will sincerely apologize for my inartful language. I did say he kicked with both feet, but anyone who knows me can attest that I’m anything but homophobic. I wasn’t happy at the way the guys spoke about it either. But it’s a sports show. They’re supposed to be dicks!”
McPhee claims Hernandez had been engaged in a long-term relationship with a man he first met in his Connecticut high school. Soon after he was arrested and released on bail, she says, Hernandez set up three separate accounts, including one for his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez and another for his daughter. But the largest account, McPhee maintains, was set up by Hernandez for his former lover.
Despite his occasional gay liaisons, McPhee says, the athlete managed to keep his sexuality secret. Hernandez’s teammates were equally in the dark. “Though he was a huge star, he didn’t mingle with the stars on that team,” she says. “He wasn’t having dinner with Tom Brady, he was hanging with his gangbanger pals from the neighborhood.” She says that Hernandez had also written to several of Kennedy’s family members, and believes that those letters will corroborate her reporting when (and if) they are released.
McPhee insists that the revelations about Hernandez’s sexuality are relevant and newsworthy because they address the athlete’s motivation—never addressed during Hernandez’s trial— for killing his longtime friend.
Despite the controversy they have stirred, McPhee firmly stands by her stories. She insists that the revelations about Hernandez’s sexuality are relevant and newsworthy because they address the athlete’s motivation—never addressed during Hernandez’s trial— for killing his longtime friend. “This was never intended to be a titillating thing. It was an integral part of this story.” She says that prosecutors ultimately elected not to use the information because they had a very strong case against Hernandez without it. “They didn’t want to let the sensational aspects overshadow the rest of their case,” McPhee says. “They were probably right to decide that. Look what’s happening to me.”
McPhee does not believe her radio appearance drove Hernandez to suicide. “Nobody ever knows why anyone kills themselves, but clearly this was not something he decided to do on a whim,” she says. “Kennedy’s lawyer said that Aaron had talked about ‘hanging it up’ weeks before he actually did it.”
Still, McPhee admits that she was caught off guard by the pushback she’s received for the story, including death threats left on her phone. “I’ve had a lot of people—especially women—call me up and yell at me that I had disrespected his wife or his family, which is kind of ridiculous,” she says. “You really think it’s worse that people know he’s a bisexual than that he’s a murderer? He’s a killer; he smeared himself! I would like to think that Aaron Hernandez’s guilty conscience over the fact that he killed three people, and shooting his friend and leaving his little girl behind, laid much heavier on him than the fact that he had a complicated love life.”