BOSTON (CBS) – In a raw, and sometimes tearful interview, Jonathan Hernandez opened up about his own struggle watching his younger brother’s life spiral out of control. “I loved him. I love him… the whole thing is just so tragic,” he said.
We caught up with Jonathan in Tampa days before the release of his new book, “The Truth About Aaron: My Journey to Understand My Brother.” The book is an unfiltered glimpse into the life of Aaron Hernandez, a star athlete who seemed to have it all.
Hernandez shares simple memories about growing up in Connecticut. “I remember us literally, Hanes T-shirts and tube socks sitting on top of a hill talking to each other about life. You are like ‘I wonder what if we are going to live next to each other? Are you gonna come over for a BBQ?’” he recalled with a smile. But that happy memory quickly became emotional. “A lot of the moments that we might have shared, to never have that opportunity; it’s tough,” he said choking back tears.
According to Jonathan, Aaron was abused by an older boy when he was just six-years-old and that abuse went on for years, but Aaron never told anyone. “We were brought up in a sense that seeking help is weak, you know crying was weak,” he said.
Knowing their father didn’t approve of homosexuality, Aaron also kept another secret. He was gay. “His sexuality and accepting himself and there are other things within the story that he was battling with,” he said.
The brothers’ relationship with their father was complicated. He would brutally beat the boys for spilling cereal, but Jonathan says their father was also their biggest cheerleader, pushing them both into sports before he died. “It’s all we knew. He was our dad. I love him. We love him. He was in a place. He went through phases in his life. I witnessed the change in him and then he’s gone,” he said.
After their father’s death, Jonathan remembers Aaron getting involved with marijuana, both smoking it and selling it. He had mood swings and fits of anger. He had friends with guns and criminal records, fame and a $40 million contract with the Patriots. “You constantly try to think of things you could have done, how things could have been different. It’s just painful,” he said.
Jonathan says he never expected Aaron would be charged and found guilty of murdering semi-pro football player, Odin Lloyd and he still remembers seeing Lloyd’s mother in the courtroom. “You feel for her. She’s going through something horrific. She lost her son. I’m a parent; this is just tragic,” he said.
There would be more tragedy. Not long after Aaron began serving a life sentence, he was charged with a 2012 double murder in the South End. Just days after he was acquitted, he committed suicide in prison. “I had so many questions. Literally get a phone call and it’s life-changing, in every sense of the word,” he said.
That’s when Jonathan says he began to talk to doctors about CTE and the toll head injuries from more the more than 15-years of playing football had on Aaron’s brain. “Just realizing what was happening and the damage my brother had in his frontal lobe.”
Jonathan says he wrote the book in hopes that his journey to understand his brother will help others. “I just hope people can understand and appreciate the value of seeking help when it’s necessary and understand that you’re not weak; it’s actually courageous.”
In the book, which was released Tuesday, Jonathan doesn’t make any excuses for Aaron. He says his brother was his best friend and looking back at his life he wishes it could have all been different.