2019 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Limited Series finalist

Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.


About the Project

The saga of Aaron Hernandez was already well-known when the Globe started “Gladiator, Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.” An NFL draft pick at the age of 21, Hernandez quickly became a star for the dynasty New England Patriots, playing in the Super Bowl and signing a multimillion dollar contract. Then his darker side emerged — Hernandez was convicted of murder and was tried (and acquitted) for two others before committing suicide in his jail cell at 27.

For many, the story ended there. But the Boston Globe Spotlight Team wanted to dig deeper. The result was “Gladiator,” an eight-part podcast that was reported, scripted, and narrated by the Globe and recorded with Wondery. The podcast shed new light on Hernandez’s past through documents and audio recordings, some never before made public, and interviews with key people who have never before spoken. Specifically, the Spotlight Team unearthed:

  • The years of abuse Hernandez suffered at the hands of his father, who previously had been portrayed by a heroic figure.
  • The lover he had — and tried to hide — in high school to protect his sexual identity, a factor which some think ultimately played into his rage.
  • Previously unheard jailhouse discussions Hernandez had with friends and family.
  • A repeated pattern in which Hernandez was protected and enabled by the big businesses of college football and the NFL.
  • Details about Hernandez’s severe case of CTE, the brain disease that afflicts football players and is correlated with bouts of anger, violence, and suicide.

With “Gladiator,” the Globe’s Spotlight Team compiled not just the story of a profoundly troubled young man, but also the ugly underside of America’s most popular sport, which shielded him from consequence and enabled his worst desires.