2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Kathryn Henne

University of Waterloo/Australian National University
A criminal mind or a damaged brain? The multiplicities of Aaron Hernandez and CTE

This analysis considers how articulations of tacit and expert knowledge play out in relation to the high-profile case of Aaron Hernandez, a former NFL player who committed suicide while serving a life sentence for a murder conviction. A posthumous examination of his brain revealed the most severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found in an athlete under 46-years-old, prompting questions—as well as assertions—about how brain trauma contributed to his violent behavior. This paper maps shifts in public commentaries that seek to reconcile Hernandez’s off-the-field actions through reductionist explanations that converge over time. Racialized assumptions about the criminalistic effects of his troubled past interact with and become complicated by later narratives invoking biologically deterministic claims about CTE being the cause of his aggressive behavior. Rather than pursue these causal linear explanations, we examine how these different framings of violent deviance become intertwined with idealized notions of sport’s character-building virtues and the wider politicization of traumatic brain injury. We conclude with a reflection on how a critical focus on the entanglements of sport, science, and law sheds light on the complexity of the case, particularly the multiplicity of trauma, which is not limited to football or Hernandez’s crimes.