Does it matter if Hernandez was gay?
How does a reporter write about an issue he or she hasn’t covered without explaining what the issue is? It’s a conundrum facing many outlets in the aftermath of the suicide of former New England Patriots star and convicted killer Aaron Hernandez last week.
In the days following Hernandez’s death, there was no end to speculation over why the one-time football prodigy would paint a Bible passage on his forehead, jam his cell door shut to slow rescue attempts, and then wrap a bedsheet around his neck to hang himself on the same day his former team was feted at the White House for its most recent Super Bowl victory.
But by Thursday, the elephant in the room began to knock over furniture as word spread that there were three notes left in his cell: one to his fiancé, one to his 4-year-old daughter, and a third to a fellow inmate.
It started last week with an ex-con who calls himself Rabbit, a regular caller to WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan radio show, who told the hosts he spoke with Hernandez before the suicide and the subject of rumors about his homosexuality came up. It made for entertaining listening if not substantive news.
But all of it was relegated to the tabloids and talk shows, untouched by more mainstream media, including the Boston Globe and the Herald. But the whispers became shouts and there was no way to avoid writing about it. The question for many, though, was how to write about something they clearly had no interest and no facts in reporting before.
Anyone who has only read the Globe’s coverage of the suicide and then the story Monday about a court hearing into releasing the suicide notes can be forgiven if they were confused. The headline read, “Lawyer: Notes may help Hernandez kin separate truth from rumor.” The story danced around the rumors until deep into the piece and then attributed it to the lawyer for Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, the dead killer’s fiancé and mother of his daughter.
“This family doesn’t know if he had a gay lover in the prison. Or didn’t have a gay lover in the prison,” attorney George Leontire said in a recording during a courtroom sidebar conversation that the Globe purchased. “Allegedly one of the notes is to a gay lover. They have a right to know that.”
That was immediately followed by a strong denial by Hernandez attorney Jose Baez, who stated “unequivocally” that his client was not gay.
“Rumors of letters to a gay lover in or out of prison are false,” Baez said in a statement. “These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead.”
Interesting choice of words, though while you can “tarnish” someone’s image, you can’t libel or defame a dead person or a convicted felon. But it also brings up the specter that being gay was something to hide or even kill yourself for, and that’s what made it difficult for mainstream media to report. The Globe has a story today from gay rights advocates saying the rampant speculation tarred the LGBT community because of the implications.
“This story, and the way it has been portrayed, raised our eyebrows from the first moment we saw the headlines,” wrote the co-founders of Outsports.com, a publication written by and for the gay community. “The story, how it’s been reported, and how it has metastasized, troubles us as both journalists and as gay men.”
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