Neither major Boston daily newspaper has reported on the Aaron Hernandez sexuality story. (Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe)
Information about the most lurid portion of the Aaron Hernandez saga can’t be found in the pages of the Boston Globe or Boston Herald. In order to read about it, one must head to New York, where it was plastered on the covers of both tabloids over the weekend.
On Kirk & Callahan last week, Boston-based investigative journalist Michele McPhee first reported how Hernandez’s sexuality may tie into the 2013 Odin Lloyd shooting. Citing law enforcement sources, McPhee said Hernandez carried on an intimate relationship with a male high school classmate from Connecticut. Lloyd, who was engaged to the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee, knew about the romance.
“There was a relationship with somebody from his high school years,” she said. “That may have provided –– and this was one of the investigative theories in the beginning –– because they got information from Ernest Wallace that perhaps –– and remember, Ernest Wallace was the guy who ditched the gun –– they had information from him that one of the motives is Odin Lloyd used a derogatory term for gay people in front of Aaron Hernandez and that Odin Lloyd had knowledge because of this relationship he had with the man in Connecticut.”
On Friday, McPhee published a story in Newsweek outlining the theory. In it, she writes that one of the three notes Hernandez left in his cell before he hanged himself last week was addressed to his prison boyfriend. The Daily Mail also posted its own piece about the letter and identified the alleged lover.
The New York Daily News and New York Post both picked up on these reports. We’ve covered the story at WEEI, because it’s currently one of the hottest topics on our airwaves.
A judge ruled Monday the Hernandez family will receive copies of his suicide notes, so perhaps the truth about the prison letter will come out. In the meantime, it’s worth examining the legitimacy of the reports regarding his sexuality, and whether the Boston papers are right to ignore them.
Why is there doubt about sexuality reports?
It’s safe to say the Daily Mail doesn’t have a sterling reputation. The tawdry British tabloid recently paid Melania Trump almost $3 million in a libel settlement and was banned on Wikipedia as an “unreliable source.”
Typically, editors need more than the Daily Mail before they green-light stories. That’s where McPhee comes in. A former police bureau chief for the Daily News and Boston Herald, she’s plugged into law enforcement agencies across the region. But so far, she’s the only non-Daily Mail journalist who’s reported on this. A source tells me journalists at the Globe and Herald are digging into it, but haven’t come up with the same information. In an email, Boston Herald editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca said the paper “doesn’t report rumors.” Boston Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan declined comment.
There’s also the theory, perpetuated by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, that police officials are trying to smear Hernandez in order to distract from any possible investigations into his suicide attempt.
What’s believable about the sexuality angle?
Since McPhee is attaching her name to the story, it’s apparent Hernandez’s alleged bisexuality is being discussed in law enforcement circles as a potential motive for the Lloyd murder. In the Newsweek piece, McPhee says the disgraced ex-NFL star’s high school friend was even forced to testify in front of a grand jury.
She’s also been right about other aspects of the suicide. McPhee reported the tidbit on Wednesday about Hernandez writing “John 3:16″ on his forehead in red marker before he died.
Rumors about Hernandez’s sexuality have apparently circulated among police officials for a couple of years. Retired police sergeant Dic Donahue, who was injured in the Boston Marathon gun battle, tweeted Sunday he knew about it “for a while.”
There’s also the curious absence of information about the third suicide note. State officials confirmed last week Hernandez left three handwritten letters in his cell. The Globe and Herald both cite law enforcement sources who say Hernandez addressed two of those messages to his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, and four-year-old daughter, Avielle. McPhee and the Daily Mail have those details as well. Neither Boston paper, however, references the third letter in any story.
If the unidentified note contains sensitive information, such as a look into Hernandez’s sexuality, perhaps the state would hold off on revealing it. The alleged boyfriend is reportedly under suicide watch, which would likely further complicates matters.
Is Hernandex’s sexuality a relevant news story?
Reporting details about Hernandez’s possible secret sex life is salacious and lewd. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant.
Four years later, there’s still no motive attached to the Lloyd shooting. Any piece of information about what may have led to his murder, such as his reported knowledge of Hernandez’s relationship with a childhood friend and alleged use of a gay slur, is a relevant news story. Murder investigations are followed until their conclusion, not until they get uncomfortable to write about.
The prison letter story seems unnecessary on the surface, but then again, so is the widely reported “John 3:16″ anecdote. Whenever famous people commit suicide, there’s a thirst for information about their lives and final days. It helps us better understand who they were, and why they may have ended it.
Should it be covered in Boston papers?
If the Globe and Herald can’t independently confirm this aspect of the story, then it’s understandable why they would opt to downplay it. But in today’s media climate, where outlets frequently aggregate reports that first appear elsewhere, it’s possible to acknowledge the existence of a story without owning it. The Sporting News did this in their write-up, which includes McPhee’s report but also outlines some of the holes in it.
Given the Globe’s and Herald’s trepidation about the accuracy of these rumors, that would be the best route to take. Acknowledge the reports are out there, and then raise doubt. Because as it stands now, there’s a disconnect between what Bostonians are talking about it, and what’s appearing in the papers.